Free agents count cost?

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

The CFL free agency period has suddenly become more intriguing.

The first impact of the $3.8-million salary cap will be felt when teams are allowed to start signing free agents on Feb. 16.

But there are several unanswered questions.

Will the salary cap keep marquee free agents from receiving the lucrative contracts that have become the norm the last few years?

Will teams use loopholes this winter to sign big names because there are no penalties this season?

Will fringe players be stuck in a nasty spot?

"If somebody has decided to wait until the free agency (period) it may cost them," said Edmonton Eskimo COO Rick LeLacheur. "It may cost them money or it may cost them a job because all of a sudden teams don't have room (under the cap) for them."

The $3.8-million figure is almost identical to the average team payroll in 2005, meaning some teams were definitely over the limit. Some suggest there were payrolls as high as $4.3 million.

There are a few prominent players that could reach free agent status next month, including Eskimo receiver Jason Tucker.

But not surprisingly, Tucker's agent isn't concerned about his client receiving lower offers because the cap is suddenly part of the league.

"Teams are going to keep money to sign impact players and Jason Tucker is an impact player," said Joe Coletta in a telephone interview from Chicago.

"I don't think it will hurt him."

Tucker led the CFL in receiving yards in 2005 and had more touchdowns than Edmonton's three other starting receivers - Ed Hervey, Mookie Mitchell and Trevor Gaylor - combined.

Those statistics mean every team in the CFL would love to add Tucker to their roster, which could lead to creative accounting this winter.

Former B.C. and Ottawa general manager Eric Tillman believes the new salary management system is landmark legislation that will greatly help the league in the future, but has already identified some possible loopholes.

"You could give a player a sizeable signing bonus of $100,000 this year," said Tillman, "and then give him a lower base salary in 2007 and 2008."

In that scenario, a team would not be fined for a ridiculously high signing bonus this season and would gain cap room when the penalties become a reality in 2007.

EXTRA POINTS: Regardless of how clubs handle finances in the free agent market, teams aren't required to release player salaries to fans or the media under the new rules of the salary management system. Although salaries are known in other leagues, the teams only have to submit salary figures to the CFL head office.

LATE HITS: The SMS also features a new future considerations clause that some believe relates to the Jason Maas trade to the Hamilton Tiger Cats last month. Starting this season, future considerations in any trade can only be cash and/or draft picks, not a player.


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