Danny Maciocia is still crunching the numbers. but the Montreal Alouettes general manager is certain his '21 budget for player salaries will be under the CFL-mandated salary cap.
The cap remains at $5.35 million, as per the league's collective bargaining agreement. But the floor is $4.75 million and with the CFL having cancelled the '20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams are taking a much harder look at their spending as they prepare for the 2021 campaign.
"I'm not really in a position to tell you exactly where we're going to be at," Maciocia said during a videoconference Tuesday. "We're not going to be at $5.3 (million), that's a given.
"We run every single contract through our team president (Mario Cecchini) so our president and ownership group know exactly what we're handing out as far as contracts are concerned and there are no surprises. For everyone to get approved we need our team president to put his stamp of approval on it, so it's hard for me to say where we're going to be at. What I can tell you right now as we sit here and discuss it, we're definitely not going to be at $5.3 million."
Maciocia said the global pandemic has created a different dynamic for CFL teams and their players.
"It's a new reality we're dealing with," he said. "Certainly we want to field a competitive team, which will be able to do.
"This has been a little bit of a sales job with the existing players that have been already under contract . . . there's had to be buy-in, there's had to be sacrifices made. Most have stepped up and sacrificed, putting us in the position we're in today in trying to fill some of those needs that we have through free agency."
Free agency is set to open next Tuesday but teams can currently talk with players who have expiring contracts with other clubs. Any offers made to those players must be registered with the CFL and CFL Players' Association and will be considered binding.
At noon ET on Sunday, clubs will have an exclusive 48-hour negotiating period to speak to their pending free agents. Also at that time, the CFL will provide teams with any registered offers made to their pending free agents.
If the original team wishes to make an offer to the player, they must do so before 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday. Between 10 a.m. and noon, the player may select any offer but if one isn't accepted the player will become a free agent at 12:01 p.m. ET.
Maciocia expects to be active in free agency.
"I'm still trying to get a feel for the market, what other teams are doing out there, what are the player demands and what's this new market we're dealing with," he said. "Am I going to be able to fit a few of these players (in) and get them under contract? Only time will tell."
It's been a busy off-season for Maciocia, who's re-signed 23 of his 48 pending free agents. But one player without a new deal is linebacker Henoc Muamba, the CFL's top Canadian in 2019.
Maciocia was negotiating with Muamba's agent, Jonathon Hardaway, before Hardaway's sudden death Jan. 15. Maciocia said Muamba is now being represented by his brother, Cauchy, a former CFL player.
"Obviously I was going back and forth with Jonathon Hardaway for a period of time,": Maciocia said. "When I did get the news, I can tell you this: I was floored.
"I actually had to step away from my computer and take a 15-20 minute walk because I didn't expect to get the news than he'd passed."
Maciocia gave Muamba permission to speak with other GMs prior to the start of free agency, then resume talks with the Alouettes.
"I've not heard back from him (but) I've left the door open," Maciocia said. "He knows, or his agent knows, the numbers I've shared with him but knowing full well I can't keep that offer on the table beyond the next little while.
"At the right price, we'd definitely consider him."
Maciocia's priority in free agency will be shoring up Montreal's defence.
"I think there's a few areas that we can either get better in or make sure we have some depth at certain positions,'" he said. "I'm working in conjunction with our scouting staff and coaches to make sure the players we are so-called targeting are going to be the ones we feel are going to fit the identity we want to have on that side of the ball."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press