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Negotiating window a new feature of 2020 free agency

Free agency officially kicks off on Feb. 11 at noon ET. This year, the ball gets rolling a little earlier than that.

As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, a free agency window has been created that will allow pending free agents and teams across the league to communicate prior to the market’s official opening. The window is open for one week, from Feb. 2 at noon ET to Feb. 9 at noon ET.

CFL GMs have discussed and considered the window as an option for a number of years. Its creation is an attempt at curtailing tampering and promoting roster continuity. The NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB all have variations of a free agency window.

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GMs across the league will have a chance to speak with pending free agents before the market opens (Dave Chidley/CFL.ca)

In the window, teams can make formal offers to a pending free agent. Those offers — complete with base salary amount along with any incentives being offered — have to be registered with the league office and the CFL Players Association. Offers submitted are considered binding and can’t be rescinded.

When the window closes, teams will enter an exclusive 48-hour negotiating period with their pending free agents. At the start of that 48-hour period, the league will provide all teams with any of the registered offers their pending free agents received. Teams will have until Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. ET to make an offer to their pending free agents. They’ll have to provide a copy of the offer to the CFL and the CFLPA.

At the end of that 48-hour period, the player will have from 10 a.m. to noon ET on Feb 11 to select any offer made to him from any club. If he chooses one of these offers, the chosen team has to notify the CFL, who will then notify the other eight teams in the league. Conversely, if the player doesn’t accept any of these offers, he’ll enter free agency with any prior offers made from any team withdrawn and no longer available for acceptance.

Once the player enters free agency, the process would unfold as it has in years past. Team offers received in free agency don’t have to be registered with the league or the CFLPA.

To run through a hypothetical, let’s look at Roughriders DB Ed Gainey.

When the window opens on Feb. 2, Gainey will be free to speak with any team in the league about a contract. He and his agent can go back and forth with multiple teams on contract length, salary, incentives, etc. Teams can make a formal offer to him, all of which would have to be registered with the league and the CFLPA.

At the end of the week, he’d have a 48-hour period with the Riders to negotiate. In that time, Saskatchewan would have access to any and all offers made to him by other teams.

After that 48-hour window with the Riders closed, Gainey would have between 10 a.m. and Noon ET on Feb. 11 to make a decision on the offers presented to him. That is the only time in the entire free agency window that a player can accept a team’s offer.

If Gainey didn’t like any of the offers he’d received, he could pass on them and enter into free agency at 12:01 p.m. ET.

Once in free agency, all prior offers are rescinded and he can go back to negotiating with any of the nine teams in the league again and the traditional process would unfold. Offers he’d receive at this point would not have to be registered with the league or the CFLPA. The team he signs with would inform the league and an announcement would be made, the same way it’s worked in previous years of free agency.