February 11, 2020

The free agent market simplified

Over the course of the past few days you’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the free agent market. And it’s no sin to admit that this has left you somewhat confused and possibly very overwhelmed. We’ve told you about our needs on the defensive line… some holes that need to be filled as the result of recent trades… and all you’ve been able to retain is that we let go, and then brought back, our cheerleading squad.

No need to stress out. We’re more than happy to share our expertise with you. After all, it’s our business to talk football all day long!

Let’s begin at the beginning.


What qualifies a player to become a free agent?

A free agent is a player, who, at a precise date and time as determined by the league (this year, it was February 11 at noon), is no longer under contract. This means he no longer “belongs” to any team: He is free or autonomous. The instant a player becomes autonomous, he can legally negotiate his contract for the upcoming season with any team. That could be a team in the CFL, in the NFL, in the XFL, or even in the Timbuktu League for that matter, if that’s where his heart is set on playing.

A few weeks before the free agency period begins, a list of potential free agents from each team is released. General managers, already well aware of what names will be appearing on that list, are responsible for negotiating with the players (or their agents) who they wish to keep on their team’s roster. These negotiations can take place at any point during the year, but the majority obviously occur as the free agency period draws ever closer. The results of these negotiations can take several different forms.

Extending or renewing a contract

Kristian Matte, the veteran offensive lineman, is a perfect example to use in order to explain what is a contract extension. Whenever his contract has neared its expiry, particularly this year, he renews it for a two-year term. Kristian has played in Montreal since the start of his professional career in 2010, and he has no desire to play elsewhere. He extends his contract, then extends it again, and then extends it once more.

However, other cases aren’t as easy to explain, especially when negotiations begin before a player’s contract is nearing completion. Our quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr., was under contract for 2020, but the team decided it was important to extend his contract until 2022. Vernon, who was listed as the fourth-string quarterback at the start of 2019 training camp, finally got to lead our Alouettes’ offence during the past season. You’ll understand therefore that:

  1. The player wanted to adjust his salary to reflect his new reality as a starting quarterback.
  2. After years spent searching for who would become the team’s quarterback of the future, the team wanted to ensure it could count on having Vernon on-board after 2020.

Releasing a player

It also happens that – after sitting down and having a discussion – the team and the player agree to an early release. In these cases, the team terminates the player’s contract before it expires, thereby giving the player the chance to begin negotiating with other teams. This usually happens when:

  1. The player wants to continue his career in another league. Our former running back Will Stanback, for example, was released in order for him to reach an agreement with the Las Vegas Raiders of the NFL.
  2. Management is having to deal with serious salary cap issues. The departures of wide receiver DeVier Posey and cornerback Tommie Campbell are two good examples.

Signing the contract

If management and the player can’t come to an agreement on a new contract, or if there is simply a lack of interest by either of the two parties, the player becomes autonomous. And that’s when discussions begin about signing a contract. There are often times when a player wants to explore the market… only to utimately, and quickly, return to the fold. That was the scenario with defensive back Ciante Evans, who was a free agent for less than a day.

The agreement…

Others who are either more inflexible in their demands or who are less sought after, have to suffer through waiting and might only get an offer in the spring or even once the season has begun. Throughout this waiting period, the players must continue to maintain their training regimen in order to get ready for the start of the upcoming season, just as though they were under contract. They could get a call from a team at the last minute. And there are usually enough injuries happening during a season that it’s rare for a free agent to remain unemployed throughout the entire six-month schedule. In 2019, cornerback Najee Murray was recalled in October. He did not disappoint, and this year was among the players whose contract was quickly extended.

Does that make things easier to understand?