Brendan TamanUnlike previous years, when the CFL free agent frenzy began on Feb. 15, this year it starts on Feb. 11. That’s not the only wrinkle that promises to make things especially interesting either.

First, there’s a shitload pile of players who are eligible to be free agents. That’s due, in part, to the CFL expansion draft that was held on Dec. 12. Because of the way the draft was structured, the Ottawa Redblacks were put in a position of taking a big risk if they picked a player from another team who was a free agent. If they did, and they weren’t able to sign the player by Feb. 15, then he would be free to sign with any other team.

Knowing that the Redblacks would likely only draft players who were under contract, a lot of GMs like the Riders’ Brendan Taman (pictured) were content to let player contracts expire as a way of pseudo-protecting more players than the 11 imports and 12 non-imports that they were allowed under the expansion draft rules. As of mid-December, 120 CFL players were eligible to declare free agency. And the Riders alone had 19 players in that category.

The second wrinkle is that the collective bargaining agreement is up for renegotiation in the off-season. Compared to the disaster years of the late ’90s and early ’00s, the league is on relatively sound financial footing. And the expectation is that after living under a relatively flat salary cap for seven seasons now (from 2007 to 2013 the cap has  climbed by small increments from $4.05 to $4.4 million) the CFL Players Association will be seeking a healthy boost in the cap in the four year run of the next CBA.

In an article I did for the Dec. 12 issue, one sports economist speculated that the CFLPA might aim for some degree of revenue sharing between teams like the Riders that are flush with cash and other teams that would be less able to absorb a substantial hike to the salary cap — perhaps to as much as $5.5 million. Being the cash cow for other CFL teams would likely be a tough sell in Riderville though.

During the last round of CBA negotiations in 2010, an agreement wasn’t ratified until a few days before the season was to begin in late June. Negotiations will also likely be protracted this time around, which puts players and management in a somewhat awkward position. Until a salary cap is set, it will be impossible to determine what fair market value for free agents is. So a lot of players may be reluctant to sign. And if an agreement isn’t concluded before the start of the 2014 season, a work stoppage could result, making the situation even more chaotic.