Ticats suspend Chris Williams for failing to report

Star returner-receiver Chris Williams did not report for work with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday and was immediately placed on the suspended list.

Player and club locked in arbitration battle over contract status

Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Chris Williams (80) looks back as he returns a Winnipeg Blue Bombers punt for the touchdown last year. It was one of five he ran in during the season. Williams has been suspended for not reporting to camp. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

An arbitrator has ruled speedy receiver Chris Williams' deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is binding despite finding the club violated the CFL's collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players' Association.

Williams, the CFL's top special-teams player last season, went to arbitration asking to be released from the final year of his contract with Hamilton reportedly so he could pursue NFL offers.

The Ticats announced the arbitrator's decision Tuesday. But despite ruling in favour of the Ticats, the Hamilton Spectator reported that arbitrator E.E. Palmer found the team violated the CBA by negotiating with an unregistered agent.

According to the Spectator, Palmer said the penalty for that was a fine and not the termination of the contract. The newspaper added the Ticats weren't fined because the CFLPA hadn't asked that they be.

The Spectator said Palmer also found the Ticats had picked up the option on Williams' contract last October in accordance to the CBA but didn't use the exact language surrounding the renewal as laid out in the agreement. Again, Palmer ruled that wasn't enough to void the contract either.

Kent Austin, the Ticats head coach and GM, was predictably happy with the news.

"We are pleased that the independent arbitrator has reached this logical and obvious conclusion," he said in a statement. "As we have stated all along, and the arbitration result validated, Chris has a legal and binding contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"We're eager to put this matter behind us and continue our preparations for the 2013 season."

Austin is expected to discuss the Williams situation in more detail Wednesday.

It remains unclear whether Williams will report to Hamilton or sit out the season, then pursue an NFL deal in 2014. Dan Vertlieb, Williams' agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press his client has received the arbitrator's decision.

"We are now in the process of discussing his options and deciding on the best course of action for Chris and his family," he said.

A league source requesting anonymity said Williams was scheduled to earn a 2013 base salary of $48,000. That pales in comparison to the NFL's minimum salary, which is $405,000 US this year, or the roughly $90,000 players south of the border can earn annually on the practice roster.

Record season

Williams had a Ticats-record 17 TDs last season, including a CFL-record six on kick returns.

As a result of the arbitrator's decision, the Ticats said they weren't subject to any penalties or fines.

Williams had refused to attend Hamilton's mini-camp earlier this off-season and was a no-show when the Ticats opened training camp Sunday, resulting in the club placing him on its suspended list.

Williams was reportedly contending he wasn't made fully aware of the conditions pertaining to his contract when he signed it prior to the 2011 season and that an unregistered agent negotiated the deal for him. Williams was also to have claimed Hamilton didn't offer him the one-year plus an option deal but rather just the two-year plus an option contract.

As a result, Williams wanted the contract made invalid.

The five-foot-eight, 175-pound Williams signed with Hamilton in October 2010 and spent time on the practice roster before re-signing with the CFL club in May 2011. The 25-year-old native of Fort Worth, Tex., wasted little time making his mark in the league.

Williams was named the CFL's top rookie in 2011 after registering 70 receptions for 1,064 yards and six TDs. He also had 12 kickoff returns for 252 yards and a touchdown while returning 12 punts for 81 yards.

Williams was even better last season, with 83 catches for 1,298 yards and 11 TDs. He also led the CFL in punt returns with 78 for 1,117 yards and five touchdowns while adding five missed field goal returns for 256 yards and a TD.

Williams played his college football at New Mexico State and joined the NFL's Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2009 but was released with an injury settlement prior to the start of the season. He signed with the Cleveland Browns later in the year and spent time on the practice roster before being let go.

With files from Canadian Press