Receiver T.J. Jones's free-agent deal with Argos on hold due to CBA wording

TORONTO — Rob Fry and receiver T.J. Jones remain in a holding pattern.

Jones agreed to a free-agent contract with the Toronto Argonauts on Feb. 14 reportedly worth $200,000 annually. However, the deal is being held up by wording in the current CFL collective bargaining agreement.

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Jones, a Winnipeg native, signed with Toronto after spending five seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions (2014-18) and New York Giants (2019). But the CBA, which was reached last year between the CFL and CFL Players' Association, limits Canadian rookies to earning no more than $80,000 annually on a three-year deal.

Ironically, if Jones were to have a stellar campaign with Toronto in 2020, he wouldn't qualify for the CFL's top rookie award because of his time in the NFL.

"It's very ironic, that's the first thing we really hit on is if he can't be considered rookie of the year then he shouldn't be held to this rookie grid," Fry, Jones's agent, said Wednesday. "He's an NFL veteran, he's actually achieved veteran pension in the NFL.

"He wants to come to the CFL in lieu of pursuing NFL futures contracts that he's been offered. He wants to start a fresh career in Canada, bring his family to Canada and play in the league his dad played in. I'm confident this situation can get fixed soon."

The Argos declined comment. A CFL official said the reason why Jones's signing with Toronto hasn't been formally announced is a proper contract hasn't yet been filed with the league.

Officials with the CFLPA weren't immediately available for comment Wednesday. The union's annual general meeting is scheduled to begin later this week in Las Vegas.

Jones's father, Andre, played in the CFL as a defensive lineman with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The elder Jones died in 2011 of a brain aneurysm. He was just 42.

T.J. Jones attended high school in Gainesville, Ga. He then spent his collegiate career at Notre Dame, like his father, before being selected in the sixth round, No. 189 overall, by Detroit in the 2014 NFL draft.

Jones appeared in 45 career NFL regular-season games, registering 67 catches for 852 yards (12.7-yard average) with five TDs.

Fry said if the CBA wording isn't amended to allow players like Jones to come to Canada as veterans, it will have implications for the CFL.

"If upheld, we'll never see some of the best Canadian football players come up to the CFL," he said. "They will be much more inclined to exhaust their NFL opportunities and then I'd say after that explore the XFL.

"I think all parties can see it's best this gets fixed quickly and allow players who've earned veteran status in the NFL to be considered veterans in the CFL and garner their market value."

That's certainly been the case in the past. Toronto native Tevaun Smith signed a two-year deal with Edmonton in February 2019 that, according to TSN, was reportedly worth more than $100,000 annually.

It came after Smith spent time in the NFL with Indianapolis, Oakland (now Las Vegas) and Jacksonville. Edmonton selected Smith in the first round, No. 8 overall, in the 2016 CFL draft out of Iowa.

"It's just a little hiccup in the collective bargaining agreement," Fry said. "The perceived language came out in January and the CFL's stance was he (Jones) falls into this rookie grid and needs to sign for three years at minimum.

"It took some time for them to wrap their head around amending it and now they've sent it off to the CFLPA and now it's in their hands to make the final move to move this on."

Fry understands why the CFL has adopted a rookie minimum.

"This new rookie grid is meant for Canadians going through the draft and straight into the CFL," he said. "I understand why they put that in place.

"It really comes close to mimicking the way the NFL is set up with its rookie contracts. They (CFL) have set a rookie scale and a minimum term just like the NFL does. It's just missed a piece of language that needs to get fixed. This has been going on for a while now so I really hope it can get fixed within the next week here."

Despite the impasse, Fry remains confident resolution will come soon.

"(Jones) is perplexed by it but he's been really patient, trusting the process and trusting that rationale will come into play here and the right decision will be made," Fry said. "I really do believe the right decision will be made.

"Just through the communication I've personally had with the CFL front office and CFLPA leadership group, there was never an intention that this new rookie grid would affect players in T.J.'s shoes."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2020.

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