The Chris Williams saga is heading to court.
On Thursday, the CFL Players’ Association announced it’s applying for a judicial review of an arbitrator’s decision that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver’s contract was binding despite being negotiated by an unregistered agent.
Williams, the CFL’s top special-teams player last year, went to arbitration requesting to be released from the final year of his deal with Hamilton reportedly so he could pursue NFL offers.
On June 5, arbitrator E.E. Palmer ruled the Ticats violated the CFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union by negotiating with an unregistered agent. However, Palmer said the penalty for that was a fine and not the termination of the contract.
Despite the arbitrator’s decision, Williams hasn’t reported to the Ticats this season.
The CFLPA said in a statement it believes any club negotiating with an unregistered agent is at an advantage in contract talks. The CFLPA added a judicial review is required to provide “legal clarity” prior to heading into upcoming contract talks with the league on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The present deal between the CFL and CFLPA is scheduled to end prior to the start of next season.
Williams signed a deal with Hamilton in 2011 that was negotiated by an agent not registered with the CFL Players’ Association. Williams reportedly contends he wasn’t made fully aware of the conditions pertaining to his rookie contract and that Hamilton didn’t offer him the one-year plus an option deal but rather just the two-year plus an option.
“In negotiating a player’s rookie contract it is especially critical that CFL clubs ensure that they are dealing with a registered agent as required by the CBA to ensure that the player’s rights are protected and that a final contract is in the player’s best interests,” the CFLPA said in a statement. “An agent who is registered with the CFLPA must have a solid understanding of the CBA, the CFL standard player contract, and CFL salaries.
“In order to be a registered agent, the individual must provide evidence of that knowledge by successfully completing a CFLPA administered test. This knowledge allows the agent to provide appropriate guidance to CFL players as they negotiate with respective CFL clubs.”
The CFLPA added it has no further comment regarding the Williams case.
A CFL spokesman requesting anonymity said the league supports the Ticats and the decision of the arbitrator, but added it would have no further comment regarding the Williams case.
In a statement, the Ticats expressed their disappointment with the situation.
“Our collective bargaining agreement with the CFLPA agrees that matters of disagreement be decided by binding arbitration,” the CFL club said. “While we are disappointed to read of the unwillingness to accept arbitrator Palmer’s binding decision, we respect their right to use any and all legal options available to them.
“We have made a number of attempts to resolve the matter with Chris and his agent but unfortunately he has chosen not to return to play for Hamilton and honour the remaining year of his contract. Since Chris and the CFLPA have now decided to pursue a judicial review of the arbitrator’s decision, we have no choice but to let this matter be decided by the court.”
According to a CFL source, Williams was scheduled to earn a 2013 base salary of $48,000. That pales in comparison to both the NFL’s minimum salary, which is US$405,000 this year, or the roughly $90,000 players south of the border can earn annually on the practice roster.
Williams had a Ticats-record 17 TDs last season, including a CFL-record six on kick returns.
The five-foot-eight, 175-pound Williams was named the CFL’s top rookie in 2011 after registering 70 receptions for 1,064 yards and six TDs. He also had 12 kickoff returns for 252 yards and a touchdown while returning 12 punts for 81 yards.
Williams was even better last season, with 83 catches for 1,298 yards and 11 TDs. He also led the CFL in punt returns with 78 for 1,117 yards and five touchdowns while adding five missed field goal returns for 256 yards and a TD.
Williams played his college football at New Mexico State and joined the NFL’s Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2009 but was released with an injury settlement prior to the start of the season. He signed with the Cleveland Browns later in the year and spent time on the practice roster before being let go.