TORONTO — Cutting bait with players who had already been paid upfront is going to cost the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
On Tuesday, the CFL announced Winnipeg was the only team to exceed its $4.2-million salary cap last season, finishing $44,687 over the limit. As a result, the Bombers were fined $44,687.
In past years, teams surpassing the cap have cited excessive injuries as the main reason for going over, but Bombers president Jim Bell says his club simply paid too much guaranteed money to players who were either traded or released prior to the start of the ’09 season.
Either way, Winnipeg still had to count the bonus money against its cap. Two such examples were offensive lineman Dan Goodspeed — given an $88,000 bonus prior to being dealt to Hamilton — and tailback Joe Smith, who received $40,000 before being cut prior to the start of the regular season.
"When you have players who get upfront money and you trade them you don’t get the cash back, you still account for it," Bell said. "We had a significant amount of money that contractually we were obligated to pay players that we either traded or parted company with."
A new head coach with different philosophies and a need to tweak the Bombers roster also played a role in going over the cap last season, Bell added.
"With that we parted company with players that had contractual commitments that we had honoured and as a result it put us behind the 8-ball going into the season," he said.
The good news, though, is at least the Bombers will keep their 2010 first-round draft pick because they didn’t exceed the cap by more than $100,000. Winnipeg currently has the seventh overall pick in this year’s Canadian college draft, which will be held May 2.
The 2009 season was a difficult one on for the Bombers, who finished third in the East Division but still missed the CFL playoffs with a 7-11 record. In the off-season, the Blue Bombers made a clean sweep of their football operations, which included firing controversial head coach Mike Kelly, and hiring Joe Mack as the vice-president of football operations and former Saskatchewan assistant Paul LaPolice as the new head coach.
Bell, who became the club’s full-time president in February, gave Kelly and last year’s football operations department credit for keeping expenses as low possible, given the struggles and injuries the club endured.
"As the season went on I thought they did a very good job of ensuring that we did not go over by any more than we had to," Bell said. "No one wanted to exceed the cap, that’s for certain.
"But simply put, transactions and transition at the beginning of the season put us in harm’s way with respect to cap management."
That the Blue Bombers exceeded the cap wasn’t surprising given there were reports as early as last spring the club was $450,000 over the $4.2-million limit. Bell said the Bombers were more than $40,000 over the cap at that time but nowhere near the reported $450,000.
"That figure is astronomical," he said.
Under terms of the salary management system, teams are fined $1 for every dollar up to $100,000 they’re over the cap. The penalty goes up to $2 for every dollar from $100,001 to $300,000 over, plus a team’s first-round draft choice.
Teams exceeding the cap by more than $300,000 are fined $3 for every dollar over and also lose their first two draft selections.
Last year, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were the only team to violate the cap — doing so for the second straight season — and were fined $87,147. The year before, the Riders received a $76,552 penalty from the league.
In 2008, the Montreal Alouettes were $108,285 over the cap and not only had to pay $116,570 in fines but also surrender the fourth overall selection that year’s Canadian college draft.
CFL teams will again operate under a $4.2-million salary cap in 2010.
Bells says Winnipeg’s new management team of himself, Mack and LaPolice will work together to ensure the club adheres to the cap.
"We will pay very close attention to the planning with respect to the (salary cap)," he said. "You want to leave yourself a little room at the end of the day in case you have to make a move in August or September."
With no team being more than $100,000 over the cap, the selection order for next month’s draft remains intact. The Toronto Argonauts have the opening pick, with Saskatchewan at No. 2 and No. 4. The B.C. Lions are at No. 3, with the Calgary Stampeders, Winnipeg and Grey Cup-champion Montreal rounding out the first round.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats forfeited the No. 5 selection after taking Weber State offensive lineman Zac Carlson in last year’s supplemental draft.