Alouettes’ defensive lineman Adrian Tracy unsure when he’ll play for Montreal

Montreal Alouettes players run onto the field prior to their season home opening CFL football game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Montreal on June 22, 2018. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Adrian Tracy isn’t optimistic that he’ll be playing football in 2020.

The veteran defensive lineman signed with the Montreal Alouettes as a free agent Feb. 13, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put the CFL season hold. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has stated an abbreviated ’20 campaign won’t start until September at the earliest, but a cancelled season also remains possible.

The CFL and CFL Players’ Association continue discussing amendments to the current collective bargaining agreement that would make a partial season possible. Tracy, 33, is looking forward to his first season in Montreal but has prepared himself mentally for that happening in 2021.

“Me, personally, I don’t,” Tracy said when asked if he feels there’ll be football in 2020. “When I signed with Montreal, the thing I was excited about was a new opportunity, a new challenge.

“Does that mean it won’t happen? I don’t know. Everything happens for a reason and hopefully the other professional leagues will be able to come to agreements with their players and outline health precautions and look at their financials and see what’s feasible.”

One reason for Tracy’s pessimism is the acrimonious relationship that exists between the league and CFLPA. Ambrosie has often referred to the players as league partners but last month prior to the start of CBA amendment talks, the CFL issued a memo to the union establishing a July 23 deadline to adopt health-and-safety protocols, the securing of acceptable federal funding and extension of the current contract past its present 2021 expiry date.

Tracy, a native of Fairfax, Va., the CFL’s memo can easily be seen as an ultimatum and not the fair treatment of an equal partner.

“I think many people would agree with that,” Tracy said. “I have the same sentiment.

“The one thing we’ve continuously expressed as a membership is we do want partnership, we do want our seat at the table and an opportunity to grow the league and allow it to expand long after many of us are gone. I feel like if that’s everybody’s end goal then even though there might be some bumps in the road there shouldn’t be any catastrophic hurdles that prevent us from having that achieved or attained.”

Trouble is, talks between the two sides have often been strained. Contract negotiations in 2014 and ’19 were both often testy and heated before agreements were finally hammered out.

In January 2018, the CFL drew the ire of the CFLPA by instructing its teams not to pay players off-season bonuses until a new CBA was reached. The current deal includes language preventing the league from doing so again, but last month the union filed a grievance against the CFL for refusing to pay certain bonuses in a player’s contract.

And while the two sides are talking, that wasn’t always the case. Last month union executive director Brian Ramsay and a host of players took to social media to express their frustration with the CFL’s lack of discussion and direction regarding a 2020 season.

For Tracy and many other CFL players, that hardly constitutes a partnership.

“It just doesn’t lean to support what it is that they’re trying to say,” Tracy said.

The six-foot-three, 248-pound Tracy is entering his sixth CFL season and 11th in pro football. After being drafted in the sixth round of the ’10 NFL draft by the New York Giants, Tracy spent four seasons there before moving on to the Arizona Cardinals (2014).

He then came to Canada, joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2015-19).

Tracy earned a Super Bowl ring with New York (2012). Hamilton reached the Grey Cup last year — Tracy was on the injured list — but lost 33-12 to Winnipeg.

Whenever the CFL begins play, Tracy is looking forward to not only continuing his pursuit of a Grey Cup ring but also helping Montreal secure its first CFL title since 2010.

Montreal enjoyed a successful 2019 season under first-year head coach Khari Jones. The Alouettes (10-8) recorded their first winning campaign since 2012 and first CFL playoff berth since 2014.

Montreal re-signed Jones to a three-year extension this off-season.

Tracy said he’s excited to again be teammates with starter Vernon Adams Jr (a former Ticat) and have the chance to play with friend Henoc Muamba, the Alouettes veteran linebacker.

“Once I agreed to sign with Montreal, the thing I was excited about was a new opportunity and a new challenge,” Tracy said. “I’m a person who enjoys a challenge, I enjoy helping build a team and comradery.

“I think that’s something my teammates in Hamilton can say . . . that was the one I was about, supported and championed, just that family environment. I tried to lend as much advice as I could, kind of like that older gentleman/veteran stature.”

That’s the same role that as an NFL rookie Tracy used to mock Giants veterans Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck about assuming.

“Fast forward 10 years later and I find myself in the same position,” Tracy said with a chuckle. “It’s a blessing, I just want to be in a position to give.

“At this stage of my career I’m still able to perform physically but that’s one of the things that I feel like I’m most valued for: The character that I have and instill into the locker room. That’s one thing I was looking forward to doing this year.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.