Tino SunseriAfter a bit of blow-back from some players upset at what they felt was a poorly coordinated effort by the CFL Players Association to push their argument that with league revenues on the rise the players deserved a significant boost in the salary cap, the players voted Thursday to accept a new five-year collective bargaining agreement. ┬áThe CFL’s board of governors ratified the deal on Friday, so that means the 2014 season is a go.

While the players failed in their initial quest to see the salary cap jump from $4.4 million to $6.2 million (instead it will rise to $5 million, with annual $50,000 increases after that), they did gain a few concessions such as a boost in the minimum salary from $45,000 to $50,000, an end to the option-year provision which restricted the ability of players to negotiate with other teams once their contract expired, plus a signing bonus of $1500 for rookies and $7500 for veterans. As well, if league revenues increase by $27 million in the next three seasons the CBA can be renegotiated to increase the salary cap.

One preseason game, a 24-22 victory by the Toronto Argonauts over the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on Monday, is already in the books. Last night, the Edmonton Eskimos played host to the B.C. Lions. And this afternoon, the expansion Ottawa Redblacks take the field against the defending Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium.

Because finishing touches are still being done to the Redblacks stadium in Ottawa, this will be treated as a home game for them. That doesn’t extend to the team having use of the Riders’ dressingroom, which is apparently much nicer than the visitors’ dressingroom, but Ottawa will use the bench on the west side where the Riders typically reside while the Riders will be on the east side.

That will be a bit of a novelty for fans, and I expect there will be other wrinkles too. The forecast for today isn’t great. Factor in that it’s the first exhibition game for both teams, and it’s hard to envision a top-flight display of football. Still, from a Green & White perspective, there are some obvious areas of interest.

First and foremost is how will the team weather the loss of two key contributors from last year’s cup-winning squad: running back Kory Sheets and receiver Weston Dressler, both of whom signed NFL contracts in the off-season. Back-up quarterback Drew Willy also decamped to Winnipeg, so fans can expect to see a fair bit of last year’s third stringer Tino Sunseri (#8 above, pictured in a Nov. 2 game against Edmonton) and training camp hopeful Seth Doege as they battle it out to see who will back-up starter Darian Durant.

On defense, the Riders lost several key veterans in the off-season, including D-lineman Keith Shologan (selected by Ottawa in the expansion draft), linebacker Mike McCullough (retirement) and linebacker Craig Butler (signed with Hamilton as a free agent). So there’s definitely some holes to fill, although there are some candidates in camp who can likely do the job.

Following this game, which kicks off at 4 p.m. (broadcast on TSN 2), the Riders play a second exhibition game at Mosaic against the Edmonton Eskimos on June 20. Then they open the regular season with a Grey Cup rematch against the Hamilton Tiger Cats at Mosaic on June 29.

We haven’t completed our own negotiations yet, but the plan is to have Cal Corduroy, Earl Camembert and Ron Mexico return for a third season of Rider Fan Forum. Assuming we can reach a deal (their monthly booze allotment remains a sticking point), they’ll be back on Dog Blog on June 28 — and perhaps even in the June 26 print edition depending on how planning for that issue goes.