Takin' off, eh?

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Tony Tompkins is learning a rather hard lesson about football contracts.

Due to a misunderstanding about his deal with the Edmonton Eskimos, it appears the dynamic kick returner will not be able to jump to the NFL this winter.

After a sensational 2005 season - when he led the CFL in special teams touchdowns as a raw rookie - Tompkins thought he was about to enter his option year with the Green and Gold, meaning he could entertain NFL offers until the middle of February.

"I was under the assumption that I signed a one year plus an option contract (in May 2005)," Tompkins told the Sun yesterday.

But in reality, he signed a two-year contract with an option for 2007, leaving him locked to the Eskimos without a window to jump south of the border this year.

"There is no question about that at all," said Paul Jones, the Eskimos general manager.

Tompkins didn't use an agent to negotiate that deal, but he has now found a representative - and Alex Balic is politely pleading for the Eskimos to release his new client.

He does have a pointed message for Jones and the club's brass.

"If I was a Canadian league general manager, in the long run it doesn't benefit you to restrict your players from going to the NFL," Balic stated.

"When you are trying to recruit players next year and word gets out that if you are (a player) doing good they are going to hold you, there's going to be a lot of top talent that isn't going to want to play in the Canadian league."

Balic has two NFL teams knocking on his door and knows Tompkins could suddenly earn nearly six times his current Canadian wage on an American team.

"If we do obtain a release, he will go to the NFL," said a confident Balic, who declined to name the teams wanting the 23-year-old product.

The minimum NFL salary is $230,000 US, a stunning contrast to the $40,000 Cdn Tompkins is scheduled to earn this summer in Edmonton.

But to no one's surprise, Balic's initial discussions with the Esks haven't produced a favourable response.

"I spoke with Paul and he doesn't want to release Tony to go to the NFL," said Balic from his Dallas office.

"If I had a guy like that on my team, I would want to keep him too.

"I don't blame him for having that outlook."

Tompkins was a key member of the Eskimos' Grey Cup season, providing three punt-return TDs and two kickoff majors, including a 96-yard TD in the championship game.

"Paul has explained it would be better for Tony to stay in the CFL for another year and rack up a lot more stats and really get a better deal," said Balic.

"I haven't really decided what to do about (the situation) at the moment."

But Balic does know he isn't going to start a messy legal scrap with the Esks.

"I'm not going to take anybody to court to sue them to release the contract," he explained. "That's not my style."

Balic plans to have further discussions with Jones.

"Tony signed a binding contract and so, in the long run, it is going to be up to Paul and Edmonton to release him or not," said Balic.

If the Eskimos continue to hold firm, Tompkins vows to report to camp.

"Edmonton is a great city and has a great team," said the speedster. "But moneywise, I would be making a lot less (than in the NFL)."


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