They might be the feel-good story of the CFL these days but the Toronto Argonauts are dead-wrong in their dealings with star running back James Wilder Jr.
Argos Offside in James Wilder Jr. Treatment
Pay the man
Wilder followed the rules to enter the CFL by signing an entry-level contract of 2 years coming into last season. That rule favours the team and not the player as it limits his ability to try the NFL again anytime soon. This would be a non-issue if Wilder didn’t perform or if the Argonauts paid him a reasonable sum, more than the paltry $56,000 CDN he is due in 2018. For risk of concussion and all the other pitfalls of that come with being a pro football running, the compensation hardly sounds worth it.
The player in this case, Wilder, has chosen to create his own leverage by threatening to sit out the coming season if he isn’t either released to pursue NFL opportunities or else given a hefty raise. The Argos, in turn, released a statement complaining that Wilder has not approached them with any request to restructure his contract. This is not how you deal with a star player who clearly played as big of a role as anyone not named Ricky Ray in just securing a franchise-changing Grey Cup championship only 2 months ago.
Argos General Manager Jim Popp should be working the phone with Wilder’s agent and try to sort a long-term contract extension. Instead of using up his salary cap space and time in luring players who might not even start in 2018–see James Franklin–he could be taking care of his stud running back who helped turn the franchise around.
It would be easy to suggest the problem with all of this lies with the Argos and their stubborn front office. If only it were that simple. The situation facing Wilder and his team goes much deeper than that. The league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (due to expire after the 2018 season) has created a system by where players, other than quarterbacks, aren’t valued anywhere near the same level as Head Coaches or General Managers.
Watching a star performer like Wilder scratch and claw for something closer to 6 figures makes one cringe when it’s no secret the Argos pay a reported 1.1 million dollars combined to employed GM Jim Popp and their Head Coach Marc Trestman. Management types are more important to football than any other sport. But Wilder is a pretty important asset too and his earning power is limited as import running backs don’t usually make it to the other side of 30. Wilder will be 26 this season and his days as a pro football player are already dwindling.
Expect this example to be brought up in collective bargaining a year from now when the players union tries to finally fight back against an ownership group which has pretty well had its way in any bargaining since meaningful TSN broadcast money started rolling in a decade ago. It was once easy for the league to cry poverty when it had no money. Not so much when the coach, GM and quarterback salaries combine for close to a 3rd of what the entire roster makes.
CFL Lucky to Have Wilder
The Canadian Football League is experiencing a renaissance of the sort with NFL-calibre players actually choosing to play in Canada. Former NFL head coaches now make up one-third of all head coaches in this league. Duron Carter says he turned down the NFL to re-sign with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
This is great news for a league that will never have the resources to compete with the NFL. It would be even better if the Toronto Argonauts paid James Wilder Jr. what he’s worth.
And that’s a whole lot more than they’re paying him now.
REGINA, SK – JULY 29: Ricky Ray #15 hands the ball off to James Wilder Jr. #32 of the Toronto Argonauts in first half action of the game between the Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium on July 29, 2017, in Regina, Canada. (Photo by Brent Just/Getty Images)