Chris Williams has his wish, with one condition.
The disgruntled receiver and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats reached an agreement Wednesday that allows Williams to immediately sign with any NFL team. But should he return to the CFL either this season or next, it must be with the Ticats.
The deal ends a bitter dispute between one of the CFL's top offensive stars sitting out the entire 2013 season for the chance to sign south of the border and an organization steadfast in its belief he honour his contract with it.
Williams wasn't available for comment. His Vancouver-based agent, Dan Vertlieb, didn't immediately return email and telephone messages.
Williams, the CFL's top special-teams player last year, went to arbitration to be released from the final year of his deal with Hamilton to reportedly pursue NFL offers. In June, arbitrator E.E. Palmer ruled the Ticats violated the CFL's collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players' Association by negotiating with an unregistered agent.
However, Palmer said the penalty for that was a fine, not the termination of the contract. The Ticats weren't fined because the CFLPA didn't ask that one be imposed.
Palmer also found Hamilton had picked up the option on Williams's contract last October in accordance to the CBA but didn't use the exact language surrounding the renewal as laid out in the agreement. But he also ruled that wasn't enough to nullify the agreement.
Despite the arbitrator's decision, Williams chose not to report to the Ticats, who responded by suspending him.
The CFLPA applied for a judicial review of Palmer's decision. In late August, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued a ruling that quashed the arbitrator's original judgement while ordering the Ticats to pay court costs of $8,500.
That prompted the CFLPA to declare Williams was a free agent. Both the CFL and Ticats disagreed, saying they planned to appeal the Ontario Superior Court ruling.
Free to sign with any club
Neither the CFL nor the Ticats would comment on the agreement, which allows Hamilton to hang on to Williams' rights for an extra year. Williams' contract was set to expire in February 2014, leaving him free to sign with any CFL or NFL club.
Williams can explore his NFL options, but if he decides to play in Canada before the '14 CFL season, he must do so with Hamilton.
Mike Morreale, the president of the CFL Player's Association, was happy a resolution was reached outside the courtroom.
"We're happy that, although there has been time that has elapsed, there has finally been an agreement that essentially puts all parties in a situation where they feel like they've been successful in taking care of this matter," Morreale said. "It's one of those things that's been trying at times but congratulations to all sides for being able to stay out of the courts and get it done."
Williams signed a deal with Hamilton in 2011 that was negotiated by an agent not registered with the CFLPA. The 25-year-old native of Fort Worth, Texas, reportedly contended he wasn't made fully aware of the conditions pertaining to his rookie contract and that Hamilton didn't offer him the one-year plus an option deal but rather just the two-year plus an option.
According to a CFL source, Williams was scheduled to earn base salary of $48,000 this season. That pales in comparison to the NFL's 2013 minimum salary of US$405,000 or the roughly $90,000 players south of the border can earn annually on the practice roster.
Williams had a Hamilton-record 17 TDs last season, including a CFL-record six on kick returns.
The five-foot-eight, 175-pound 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 collegiately at New Mexico State and joined the NFL's Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He was released with an injury settlement prior to the start of the season.
Williams signed with the Cleveland Browns later in the year and spent time on the practice roster before being let go.