By Frankie Benvenuti | OSJ Staff
There has been plenty of debate about who should be the next REDBLACKS QB, and we have heard many names including Nick Arbuckle, Jeremiah Masoli, Zach Collaros, and Matt Nichols. With Matt Nichols hitting free agency this February it seems likely that Nichols will be changing uniforms for the 2020 season. After the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup without Nichols, it seems unlikely that he gets re-signed. The Collaros and Streveler tag team worked well towards the end of the season and the Bombers will be unable to keep all 3 quarterbacks on the team.
I have been going back and forth for quite some time about who I thought the REDBLACKS next quarterback would be, and after the REDBLACKS hired Paul LaPolice this past week, I’ve become dead set on having Nichols as the QB for the 2020 season.
There are multiple reasons why I think this, but it mostly comes down to two things: he's the safest option for Ottawa and has the most overall CFL experience.. Going into last season, the REDBLACKS went with the new toy in Dominique Davis. There are times where the shiny new toy is the best option, but I don’t believe that is the case for the REDBLACKS right now. After one of the worst seasons Ottawa football has seen, a veteran presence in the backfield would be a perfect change from the new toy last season. The new toy in this situation right now is Nick Arbuckle.
Arbuckle is 6 years younger than Nichols (Arbuckle is 26 and Nichols is 32), but has far less CFL experience. Arbuckle has only 2 CFL seasons under his belt while Nichols has 8. Nichols would bring some stability to the REDBLACKS and be the perfect person to fill the hole that Trevor Harris left in the 2019 offseason. The biggest reason I’d prefer Nichols over Arbuckle right now is we know what Nichols has to offer. He is one of the better quarterbacks in the CFL right now and the Bombers could have missed the playoffs had he not played so well in his 9 games this season. Over his career, Nichols has completed 67% of his passes and has a 1.8:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Many of those interceptions were thrown early in his career. We often talk about how great Arbuckle was in his starts this season, but we forget about Nichols. Arbuckle threw 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but Nichols threw 15 touchdowns and the same 5 interceptions. That’s a 3:1 ratio. This isn’t to say that Arbuckle isn’t good, but it does show that Nichols is a viable option to lead a football team.
Another key thing to consider is the working relationship between Paul LaPolice and Nichols. The two have worked together in Winnipeg in recent years and helped bring relevance to the city. When Rick Campbell was fired, Marcel Desjardins was asked if the new head coach would be helping in the search for the next quarterback. He said the coach would indeed be helping in the search. You would have to think that LaPolice would have some kind of connection with Nichols after being the offensive coordinator for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Should Nichols be available to the REDBLACKS in February, I would be shocked if they chose Arbuckle over Nichols. For me, this is the choice: Nichols or Arbuckle. This is why I am comparing the two so much. There are other options out there for sure including good quarterbacks like Jeremiah Masoli and McLeod Bethel-Tompson, but I just can’t see those two in Ottawa. I would take Masoli, but he won’t be ready to play until the middle of the season. As far as Bethel-Thompson goes, he would be my plan ‘C’ if everything goes wrong, or a good backup to bring in if Dominique Davis isn’t the backup for the future.
The REDBLACKS are making positive moves right now, and continuing that with a solid QB come February is what everyone is waiting for. Both Nichols and Arbuckle are good options, but for me, I fully believe the REDBLACKS are better off with Nichols at the helm of the offence. He may not have been able to lead the Bombers to the promised land, but that could be different in Ottawa.
As for Arbuckle, there is no question in my mind that he will be starting for a CFL team come June. My biggest issue with Arbuckle is the sample size. Yes, he played incredibly in his few starts this season, but we haven’t seen the other side. Every QB has their off days and we have seen that first hand in Ottawa with Henry Burris and Trevor Harris, but Arbuckle hasn’t shown us his bad side. He won’t be spectacular every night, and we don’t know yet how bad those nights will be.
I go back to the James Franklin situation. Franklin was called the next big thing all season and signed with the Toronto Argonauts in the offseason. In short, James Franklin is not the next big thing, and the Argos are still looking for a quarterback. I would tell Marcel to learn from that and go get the best QB right now. Don’t worry about the potential, because that’s all it is. Potential is great, but if it isn’t realized then it's worthless.
While there are many options for the REDBLACKS at the QB position come February, there is a clear-cut favourite for the spot in my mind right now and that is Matt Nichols. With his experience and veteran presence, the REDBLACKS would be in the best spot to compete for a Grey Cup in the coming years.