TORONTO — It's time — finally — for running back Don Jackson and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to get to work.
Jackson and the Ticats reported for their first day of training camp Thursday. Camp was supposed to open Sunday at Tim Hortons Field, but Hamilton was among seven CFL teams whose players went on strike after contract talks between the league and CFL Players' Association broke off Saturday and the past collective bargaining agreement expired.
But the two sides hammered out a tentative agreement Wednesday night. It must still be formally ratified by both the CFL and CFLPA membership, but Hamilton and the other six teams formally began preparing for the 2022 season Thursday.
"Let's get it crackin'," Jackson tweeted Thursday morning.
On Wednesday night, Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence posted a video of himself walking down a hallway, tweeting, "Me reporting back to camp at 11:11 (p.m. ET)."
This marked the second strike in CFL history. The first came in 1974 and it was also settled before the start of the regular season.
Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders players reported to camp Sunday because they weren't in a legal strike position. They would've been able to join the work stoppage Thursday afternoon.
The B.C. Lions also opened camp Thursday. They have a lot of lost time to make up as they'll begin the regular season hosting Edmonton on June 11.
"We're not going to wallow and pout around," Lions head coach/co-GM Rick Campbell said of Edmonton's competitive advantage. "But anybody who knows football knows it's a huge advantage (to have had training camp this week).
"And us having Edmonton (to open season), there’s no question they’re at an advantage with the time they got in and the time we missed. But it is what it is. We've adapted our schedule and we're going to try to squeeze some more practices in here or there as we can and try to make up what we can."
The strike forced the CFL to reschedule its opening pre-season game. The Saskatchewan Roughriders were to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Monday night, but they'll meet May 31.
The CFL exhibition season now opens May 27, with the Ottawa Redblacks hosting the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton visiting Winnipeg. The following night, the Calgary Stampeders are home to B.C. while Hamilton entertains the Montreal Alouettes.
The '22 regular season will open on time, with Montreal in Calgary on June 9.
The tentative deal covers seven years but can be re-opened after five when the CFL's current broadcast deal with TSN expires. And that's important, because this agreement also includes revenue-sharing for the players.
But the CFLPA will get a share of all revenues, including the Grey Cup, and gets the final say on the auditor who'll be tasked with authenticating the final figures.
The CFL salary cap will increase annually but veteran players now will have the chance to get the final year of a three-year contract guaranteed up to 50 per cent.
The agreement calls for teams to start eight Canadians, but one can be a naturalized Canadian, an American with at least five years of CFL experience or three with the same team.
That's a big deal for American defensive back T.J. Lee, who's entering his eighth season with B.C.
"It keeps guys like me around for longer, I feel," he said. "As long as I'm able to produce, I’m considered a Canadian and that works out for guys that have been in the league for a long time to continue to build a relationship with the fan base.
"It makes the game more exciting for us to be able to hang around for longer."
The deal also reportedly calls for teams to have one hour-long weekly padded practice for 12 weeks. But players will receive more long-term health coverage (five years by the third year of the contract) in return.
And the agreement is set to expire at least 30 days before the start of training camp, rather than the day before like the past agreement did.
“At the end of the day, the big things we were going for was revenue sharing, which we got, (and) the healthcare's great," said fullback David Mackie, a Lions' player rep. "But the ratio is something that's always going to be sensitive within our membership and it's something we can't take lightly and we've got to make sure we understand.”
The union's constant message throughout negotiations was its desire to secure a fair deal. Mackie feels the players are better off now than they were before securing the tentative agreement.
"I believe there's always room to grow," he said. "But compared to where we've been in the past … it definitely seems like we’re moving in the right direction.
"We had to bargain hard and this strike, it paid off, I believe.”
With files from CP sports reporter Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press