The Canadian Football League Players’ Association has filed a grievance over the Calgary Stampeders refusal to let linebacker Nate Holley out of his contract to pursue opportunities in the National Football League.
Holley, 25, had an outstanding season for the Stampeders, playing in all 18 games. He registered 78 defensive tackles and another 22 on special teams, to go with an interception and a sack. He was named the CFL’s most outstanding rookie, helping garner him plenty of attention from NFL teams.
But unlike his former Calgary teammate Tre Roberson and players like former Winnipeg defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo, the Stampeders say they won’t release Holley from his deal, which expires after the 2020 season.
That came as a surprise to Holley, who signed in the CFL after a stint with the Los Angeles Rams with the understanding the league has an “NFL window” to allow players to work out and sign for NFL teams during the off-season.
“Nate’s impression, and what he told me, was that Calgary would give him a window to workout for NFL teams between his first and second year on the contract,” said Holley’s NFL representative, Kyle Strongin. “At the end of the year, I heard from some NFL teams that Nate was not on the approved workout list given to them by the NFL, which was different than what we anticipated or expected.”
Though the NFL window was part of the collective bargaining agreement signed last May, no deal is in place because the CFL hasn’t been able to come to agreement with the NFL and NFL Players Association on conditions surrounding the early release of players.
Instead, it’s been left up to CFL teams on a case-by-case basis to decide whether or not to release players from their contracts.
The Stampeders initially refused to allow Roberson out of his contract, but relented in January. Roberson went on to work out for roughly half the NFL teams and sign with the Chicago Bears.
“We asked for the same treatment for Nate and he has not been given the same opportunity that Tre has,” said Strongin. “Calgary referenced Tre’s age  but at the end of the day that doesn’t matter. What matters is what Nate was told by Calgary [about] the opportunity he would have and they have not given him the opportunity that they told him that they would.”
Holley then took his case to the CFLPA which has grieved the matter, with no date for a hearing scheduled.
Stampeders’ general manager John Hufnagel had no comment on the matter. The league responded to the matter by stating, “This is now the subject of a grievance under our collective agreement. Out of respect for that process, we have no comment at this time.”
The matter of players leaving their CFL contracts early for NFL opportunities has divided the league for years.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie stated he wanted a league-wide policy that applied to all teams and players, which is what the league thought it had in its new collective agreement.
The issue stalled when the NFLPA objected over CFL teams retaining the rights to players over the term of their contracts in the event they were cut by an NFL team. The NFLPA wants those players to become true free agents with no conditions attached.
That’s where the issue remains, leaving Holley unsure of his football future.
“The timing is very critical,” said Strongin. “These NFL teams are now locked in doing draft meetings and will go right to the NFL Combine and then right to pro days and team visits right through March and April. So there’s really not a lot of time where you’re going to have a lot of the higher-level management in the building to work out a player like Nate to then come to a consensus to say ‘Yes, we are going to sign this guy to our team.’”