Jason Pottinger chose his words carefully, because this was the first time he could speak for himself, on the record. And the Ottawa Redblacks linebacker wanted to be sure his words delivered their full effect.
"It's an insult," he said over the phone Wednesday after the CFL Players Association lifted its media ban, giving its members the ability to speak openly about stalling collective bargaining talks.
For Pottinger — 30 years old and an eight-year CFL veteran taken by Ottawa in December's expansion draft— "It," is an all-composing term, referring to the CFL's reluctance to explore any revenue-sharing model, and the publication of the league's newest offer Wednesday, which includes a "ratification bonus" ($1,000 for rookies and $3,000 for veterans) if the players agree to the league's terms by June 2.
"It's a slap in the face."
"It" ultimately alludes to a negotiation process that has made no progress for months. Like most players, Pottinger has not directly been part of the talks. There is now a week left before the current CBA expires on May 29.
Last week the CFLPA began mailing out strike ballots to its members. Pottinger has received his, and he has voted 'Yes.'
"I'm hopeful," he said. "But the league has to start taking us seriously."
For the most part, players have kept quiet over the last few months. The CFL made certain no one representing the league or any team spoke, threatening hefty fines for any league or team official willing to share any thoughts on the negotiations. And then today - after TSN initially reported the league's latest offer to the players - CFL commissioner Mark Cohon released the offer on the league's website along with an open letter to players and fans.
The league's offer includes an initial nine per cent increase on the salary cap — from the existing $4.4 million to $4.8 million — in the first year of a new CBA, and a yearly $50,000 increase over the life of a new five-year deal (putting the cap at $5,050,000). The league minimum salary would also be raised from $45,000 to $50,000. And the CFL would maintain a $450,000 annual payment to the CFLPA for "Player marketing and other rights."
The proposal also includes larger active rosters, plans for limited amounts of contact practices, and the continuation of player pension, medical, and life insurance benefits.
"The CFL offer strikes an appropriate balance of, on the one hand, providing significant compensation increases and health and safety improvements to the Players while, on the other hand, creating an environment in which the League and its teams can continue to build for a strong and stable future," Cohon wrote in his letter to the players.
"I was surprised [the league went public]," Pottinger said. "This must have been their plan. We had an understanding that neither side would approach the media for 24 hours. [The players] gave that notice [Tuesday afternoon] and the league broke that understanding. They came in [to the proposed Toronto meeting place Wednesday] handed their proposal and walked out. Now is that bargaining?"
Four hours later, CFLPA executives held a press conference and released their counterproposal. The crucial component of the players' offer is $6.24 million salary cap partly determined by a revenue-sharing model, which would allocate 55 per cent of gross revenue from TV, internet and radio rights, 45 per cent of gross sponsorship revenue, and 40 per cent of gross ticket revenue to the players.
"We advised the CFLPA in no uncertain terms that their proposal was not realistic, and would not form the basis for any financial settlement," Cohon said in his letter. "In fact, it would threaten the very existence of the CFL."
"The league has only recently been upfront with us about their finances," Pottinger said. "This isn't just about the players now. This is about the players who are coming into the league, and who will come into the league. In five years, I will likely be out of the league. I want players coming to the CFL then to say 'Thanks for putting up a fight.'
CFLPA president Scott Flory also issued a letter to CFL fans Wednesday afternoon. "We are in not interested in destroying the game that has given us all so much. We put our bodies, hearts and souls on the line and seek nothing more than to be fairly paid for what we do," Flory wrote.
Sources - players both close to the negotiations and outside of the meetings - have told TSN over the past few months that some kind of revenue-sharing scheme must be an integral part of any new CBA. But are the percentages in the CFLPA's recent proposal fixed, immutable numbers? Or a starting point that hasn't yet been properly considered?
Pottinger, a businessman himself working toward his Master of Business Administration, paused when considering the questions. The terms "what's fair" and "fair share" were constantly repeated principles when players were advised to say little or nothing. The message won't change now.
"In the end - and I know you've heard this enough times already - but we want what's fair," he said.
"I want you to write this: Back in 2010 [when the soon-to-be-expired CBA was being negotiated] revenue sharing for the players was around 56 per cent. The league approached us and said they couldn't operate with a revenue sharing model. They told us the league wouldn't be healthy. They told us to be partners. We understood. We thought we were partners."
"Now it just feels like take, take, take."
Players used social media to air frustration and show their filled-in strike ballots. Ones with 'NO' crossed have yet to be seen. "In writing this letter, we the Executive, are still here where our negotiations were scheduled to be, working towards furthering talks. We need two sides," Flory wrote in his open letter.
What is the timetable now? Does Pottinger expect to miss the first week of training camp? The first preseason game? The first week of the regular season? Is he ready to strike?
"I'm still hopeful for a new deal," Pottinger said.