Andrew Bucholtz

Muamba - Bombers contract talks stall over option year

Andrew Bucholtz
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The CFL's a very different league from the NFL, and those differences extend just beyond the bigger field, extra players and Canadian content north of the 49th. They also apply to the realm of contracts, and that appears to be what's responsible for the latest delay in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' attempts to sign top overall draft pick Henoc Muamba. As Sportsnet's Arash Madani reported Friday, Muamba's camp apparently came to terms with the Bombers on a deal, but that deal was then scuttled over a misunderstanding around the terms of the deal's team option year. Team options are quite standard in CFL contracts, and the option itself doesn't appear to be the issue. However, Mumba's group reportedly thought the offered deal was two years including an option, when in reality it was two years plus a team option (or essentially three years). Here are some of Madani's tweets on the matter yesterday in chronological order, demonstrating how things went wrong and how unusual this situation is:

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It's not like Muamba's the first guy to appear to have a deal done only to change his mind at the last moment, as Ricky Foley did that only last year. It is pretty unusual to see a contract break down over miscommunication of the terms, however. What probably helped complicate the Muamba situation were the 2010 changes to the CFL's CBA, which removed the NFL window during players' option years. It used to be that the team option was less of a lock, as players could go try their luck in the NFL before an option year. As Yahoo!'s Doug Farrar wrote last year, the removal of that window has made attracting top talent somewhat more difficult for the CFL, as American players now have to commit to spending at least two years north of the border.

The impact may of that change have been as great as some initial critics like B.C. Lions' coach/GM Wally Buono originally thought, but I have had solid reports that it's kept at least some quality undrafted free agents away from coming north, despite the difficult situation many of those players are in thanks to the ongoing NFL lockout. In Muamba's case, his camp appears to have been willing to commit to two years north of the border (the CFL minimum), but had issues with a third year; that might not have been a problem if the NFL window in players' option years still remained.

It's not like this is a particularly new issue; even before the draft and even before Winnipeg prematurely announced their selection to the world by flying Muamba and his family in, questions were raised about his interest in the NFL. Muamba (pictured above right receiving the 2010 Presidents' Trophy as the top CIS non-line defensive player) chose Washington, D.C.-based agent Johnathan Hardway as his agent, and Hardway also represents Cory Greenwood. Greenwood was selected third overall in last year's draft by the Toronto Argonauts, but turned them down to sign as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs; there were concerns that Muamba might do the same, making him riskier than your typical first-overall pick. The ongoing lockout means he can't follow Greenwood's path right away, as undrafted free agents are currently unable to sign with NFL teams, but if there is NFL interest in Muamba (either right now or a couple of years down the road), that gives his camp extra leverage in negotiations with Winnipeg.

Moreover, the Bombers are in a difficult position; they can't give Muamba too much money or too few years without hurting their organization, but they'll also be significantly hurt from both an on-field and public-relations standpoint if they're unable to bring their first-overall pick to training camp. Muamba has the potential to be a very good CFL player and a key contributor for Winnipeg (Canadian Football Talk readers picked him to have the best career of any draft pick this year), but they'll have to find a way to sign him first. We'll see how this works out, but perhaps the takeaway here is in the CFL, it's never over until the contract's officially signed.

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