By Mark Swartz
Monster Senior Contributing Writer
10 seconds remain on the game clock and the crowd is cheering madly. Snow swirls around the football field like confetti in a parade. It’s the final moments of this year’s Grey Cup, our Canadian Football League’s annual championship classic. The hometown team kicks a field goal as time runs out and whoosh, it’s good for the winning three points!
You might think the victorious players would head back to the clubhouse for one last blowout party, then be on their way to their mansions and an off-season of decadent relaxation. You’d be right about the celebration. But the fancy homes and extended time off? Not for everyone.
The Canadian Football League (CFL) may be our answer to America’s National Football League. But while the excitement in both leagues may be similar, salaries
of Canadian football players lag dramatically behind those of their U.S. counterparts.
Minimum Starting Salaries In The CFL
A high draft pick in the CFL can expect a small signing bonus in their first year and salary of about $50,000. Lower selections and undrafted free agents are more toward the CFL minimum salary, which is $41,000 a year. All eight teams operate within a league-mandated $4.2-million salary cap each. The League conducts individual team audits in the off-season, with penalties handed out to teams surpassing the cap.
Keep in mind that a typical CFL season is about six months in length. It does work out to longer because the players need to stay in condition and report for training camp early. That’s where players have to impress the head coaches and re-earn their berths in the starting line up. These head coaches, by the way, can earn anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars yearly to two or three times that amount.
CFL Wages Are Increasing, But Nowhere Near NFL Salaries
Things have progressed since 2002, when before joining the CFL, Edmonton Eskimos’ quarterback Ricky Ray was delivering Frito Lay potato chips for $43,000 U.S. a year - more than he made in Edmonton that year. By the mid-2000’s Ray was the highest paid player in the CFL with an annual salary
Meanwhile Edmonton kicker Sean Fleming said at the time that “I work full-time year-round at Price Waterhouse Coopers. I’ve done that for a year and a half. Before that, I was an investment advisor with National Bank Financial. So basically I’ve got one full-time job and this [football] is my part-time job.” Not so for Ricky Ray, whose pay package for 2009 rose to $460,000 – which buys one heck of a lot of potato chips!
Not so many though as for star National Football League (NFL) quarterback Eli Manning. Mr. Manning agreed in 2009 to a contract extension with the New York Giants that will give him the highest average annual salary in the NFL. The six-year extension is worth a possible $97.5 million in total and runs through the 2015 season.
Moonlighting and Off-Season Work
Some of the more famous CFL players do well on the professional speaking circuit as a way of augmenting their income. Former Toronto Argonaut Michael “Pinball” Clemens – who played there from 1989 until 2000 – parlayed his prominence into very lucrative speaking gigs in between games.
Others take their athleticism into other spheres. The B.C. Lions’ punt returner Ian Smart, for example, worked as a sprint coach at a private high school in Florida.
Still other players work overtime or off-season in completely unrelated jobs. Take the case of George Hudson and Greg Bearman. They played centre and defensive back respectively with the former Ottawa Renegades (a now defunct CFL team). When not crushing opponents on the field, these gentlemen partnered in a business that repossessed cars from people who couldn’t make their payments. Can you imagine having your auto taken away from you by the two of these behemoths? No argument here, sirs.
The CFL is a gruelling workplace where every player takes his lumps. Naturally when it comes time to leave the game people go on to other careers.
Some become coaches for college and high school football teams. A few evolve into sports broadcasters or turn into scouts who seek out fresh young talent for their former employer.
Others make the CFL a lifetime employer, like Pinball Clements. He became head coach of the Toronto Argonauts after hanging up his cleats for good in 2000. Eventually he worked his way up to President of the organization. Then onto a second stint as the team's head coach. From there, CEO of the Argos. By 2009 he was Vice-Chair of the team handling a range of duties including providing input and assistance with key sales and corporate partner programs, community initiatives, plus brand and media relations.
There Are Less Painful Ways To Make A Living
Broken bones. Concussions to the head. Contusions and muscle ruptures. All in a day’s work for CFL warriors. Don’t think for a minute that all their padding under the uniforms they wear make them immune to bruising pain.
Yet there is a definite thrill to playing on a CFL team. The unbeatable camaraderie, those cheers from your adoring crowd. A chance to win the Grey Cup just as overtime looms. And those second jobs that expand your horizons and keep the wolf from your door. Who could possibly give all that up?