CFL Sports Agents

Representation in The CFL

After getting put into my place for being a small time agent who represents clients in the CFL, I decided to focus on that very league…

Here’s the Canadian Football league in a nutshell:

– 8 teams, with 42 active players per team.

– Half of the players on each roster are Canadian, half are American.

– The field is longer (110 yards) and wider (65 yards). The end zones are also 20 yards long.

Why point out those facts? Because they relate directly back to my business. Here’s why:

– 8 teams mean that your opportunities for a roster spot in the CFL are limited. With 336 active roster spots, my firm represents 8% of them. In most other leagues, top agents are representing between 4-5% of the total active membership. (Apologies for the selfish plug)

– With half of the players in the league being Canadian, a Canuck has a distinct advantage over an American player. There are far less talented (in number) Canadian football players to fill quite a few spots. In addition, each team must start 7 Canadians. You see, Canadians in the CFL are gold! For that very reason, the majority of clients that I represent are Canadian.

– The larger field means that players in the CFL are leaner and faster. For example, most players who play DB/Safety at a US College would be converted to an outside linebacker in the CFL. That 350 pound hole plugging offensive lineman won’t make it either and the defensive lineman are slim and fast.

Here’s the way I look at the CFL. It’s not a minor league to the NFL, it’s a completely different brand of football. Some former 1st round NFL draft picks haven’t been able to make it in the CFL. The league demands a different skill set and it’s up to a player agent to recognize this and seek out the right type of player for this league.

What’s interesting is to see how the gap has widened over the past 25 years between the CFL and NFL. It’s hard to believe that the CFL used to lure players away from the NFL, including the likes of Tom Cousineau. Remember that Cousineau was drafted first overall in the 1979 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, but never played a game with the Bills after Cousineau thought that the Bills were rude to him. He instead signed with the Montreal Alouettes where they offered double the money that the Bills originally offered! Imagine if Mario Williams would have spurned the Houston Texans for the Saskatchewan Roughriders!

How do players make it into the CFL? Two ways really, for each nationality. Priority American’s are put on a “negotiation list”. Each team has a list that he can fill up with 40 names. The teams constantly add/delete players from this list depending on their status in the NFL. Amazingly enough Ricky Williams was on the BC Lions neg list for years and about a month after they took him off the Toronto Argonauts added him to theirs and the rest is CFL history. Canadians are eligible for the annual Canadian College Draft. It’s a 6 round event that happens in April after the NFL draft. The CFL Combine happens about a month before. The combine is attended by about 50 prospects annually and is a two day event. Americans who aren’t on negotiation lists and Canadians who aren’t drafted automatically become free agents.

When it comes to representation, It is estimated that about 70% of the players in the CFL have representation. Meanwhile, the other 30% get screwed over by their member clubs…just kidding.

Of important note, the CFL has recently instituted a salary cap which will hover around the low $4 million mark. It’s the first time in league history that a cap has been instituted. The key next season is going to be how the league monitors it next year. It’s a big question mark! The league always had a salary cap in place, but it was never enforced.

One of the problems over the years in the CFL had been the excessive number of “side deals”. Some teams attempted to play under the cap, but would do so by registering a contract that wasn’t legitimate. A players contract that was worth $180,000 would be registered at $120,000 – keeping 1/3 of the contract off the books. In the end, this was bad for everybody.


A player who got traded would have his bogus contract traded with him. His new team wasn’t going to honor his purported contract. In addition, a few years back when two teams couldn’t make their payroll at the end of the season the league assumed making payments to players and only paid what was registered with the league.

Agents weren’t able to compare contracts with other players because the notion was that all contracts registered with the league weren’t accurate. So, it became much harder to negotiate with so little information.

Teams ended up destroying the parity in their own small league and as a result one of the teams (Ottawa) could no longer compete financially. The salary cap had been just under $3 million, but most teams were in the high $4 million range. The game was great because they didn’t have to play within any set of rules, but that story got old pretty fast!

The average salary in the CFL is about $54,000, with the league minimum at $39,000 and no max on an individual contract. Obviously there aren’t multi-million dollar contracts floating around in the CFL which is why some agents have decided to stay away or just look at the CFL as a place for some of their players to hone their skills. About 5-10 players jump from the CFL to the NFL a year and some of them end up having a pretty good impact; Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie, Mike Vanderjagt, Jon Ryan, and a host of others!

Why did I decide on representing players in the CFL? Well, I guess I’ve found my niche.

– Darren Gill

2 replies on “Representation in The CFL”

How  would I go about finding an agent like yourself to represent me? I am American with aspirations of playing in the CFL.

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