What Matt Nichols’ contract extension means for the Bombers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced a three-year contract extension for quarterback Matt Nichols on Wednesday morning, two days after our own Justin Dunk reported the two sides had agreed to terms on a deal. The deal was met with enthusiasm from Bombers of both past and present.

The financial details of the contract were soon reported by TSN’s Gary Lawless.

The contract, worth approximately $1.25 million over three years, is a fair deal for both sides. The market was limited for Nichols, hampering his earning potential should he have made it to free agency. Saskatchewan was the only remaining realistic landing spot for Nichols following the Darian Durant trade, a pairing that could have proven awkward. Chris Jones, now the general manager and head coach of the Riders, was part of the brain trust in Edmonton that shipped Nichols to Winnipeg for a conditional seventh round draft pick in 2015.

All things considered, $400,000-plus per season is good money for the seven-year CFL pivot. The deal doesn’t put Nichols in the CFL’s highest-earning quarterback tier that includes Edmonton’s Mike Reilly ($520,000) and Hamilton’s Zach Collaros ($520,000), but it puts him within a stone’s throw of Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell ($440,000) and Ottawa’s Trevor Harris ($420,000). Considering how hard Nichols has worked to reach this stage of his career (including a torn ACL in 2013, his benching in Edmonton, and a mid-season trade), he’s earned every dollar the Bombers have committed to him through 2019. As an added bonus, Nichols will be just 32 when his current deal expires, meaning he very well could hit it big on one more contract.

As for the Bombers, the club has locked up a true CFL starting quarterback for the first time in almost a decade. Winning in the CFL without a competent quarterback is next to impossible, a fact that is well-illustrated by the Bombers’ record since 2009 (53-91).

Finishing the 2016 season with a 10-3 record, Nichols improved his win total with the Bombers to twelve (with the previous two victories coming in 2015). If Nichols is able to continue his success into next season it won’t take long for him to become the club’s winningest quarterback since Kevin Glenn was released following the 2008 season.

Quarterback Wins with Bombers since 2009
Buck Pierce 14
Matt Nichols 12
Drew Willy 11
Michael Bishop 6
Joey Elliott 2
Alex Brink 2
Justin Goltz 1
Max Hall 1
Stefan LeFors 1

For perspective, Bishop — who’s only eight wins out of first place on this list — was only employed by the Winnipeg Football Club from July 28, 2009 until February 23, 2010. That’s 210 days.

Eight. Wins. Out. Of. First. Place.

Clearly, the Bombers have been without quality quarterbacking for too long. Nichols remedies that. Some will be quick to point out that Nichols has only one great season under his belt, a fair criticism — consistency is key, after all. Still, it’s important to remember that this past season was Nichols’ first under offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice, whose ball-control offence brought out the best in the veteran pivot. It’s also worth noting that the Bombers have retained their entire offensive line from a year ago while adding to their receiving corps (more on that in a moment).

As an added bonus, Nichols is a perfect fit for the city of Winnipeg. Winnipeg is a blue-collar town, full of kind, persevering, hard-working people. Nichols personifies these qualities in attitude, character, and spirit. Blue Bomber P.R. man Darren Cameron tweeted out the following photo on Wednesday evening amidst Nichols’ media tour. Off the field, Nichols could easily pass for a farmer, bartender or construction worker. He may have been born in California, but Nichols has Manitoba written all over him.

Matt Nichols needed Winnipeg and Winnipeg needed Matt Nichols. Kudos to both sides for getting a deal done.

Davis ready?

Nichols’ extension was preceded by the release of Kevin Glenn on January 6. Glenn, who is expected to emerge as the starter in Saskatchewan, would have commanded a contract similar to the one Winnipeg gave Nichols prior to the 2016 season to serve as the club’s back-up. That deal paid Nichols $170,000 guaranteed with playtime incentives paying up to an additional $150,000.

Given the number of big-name contract extensions the Bombers have completed this off-season (Nichols, Stanley Bryant, Justin Medlock, and Darvin Adams among them), it’s unlikely Kyle Walters will have the cap space to sign an experienced CFL back-up quarterback prior to the 2017 season. This means that third-year man Dominique Davis is the front-runner to be the Bombers’ primary back-up this season, a nerve-racking reality for Bomber fans.

Davis may yet become a quality CFL quarterback, but the 27-year-old East Carolina product is currently an unknown commodity. With just 32 professional pass attempts to his name (seven with the Atlanta Falcons in 2013 and 25 with Winnipeg in 2015), Davis has yet to prove he can compete at the CFL level. Watch for Davis’ play to be highly scrutinized by coaches, fans, and media come training camp in late May.

Stocking the receiving corps

The Bombers gave Darvin Adams a substantial and well-deserved raise earlier this week to remain with the club through the 2019 season. Adams, 27, recorded 51 receptions for 690 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 despite missing ten games due to a broken collarbone. That production puts Adams on pace for 1,552 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns over a full eighteen-game season, numbers that would have put him fourth in CFL receiving yardage and first in receiving touchdowns a year ago.

The addition of Kenny Stafford is also substantial for the blue and gold. Stafford, signed Tuesday, is coming off a disappointing campaign in Montreal where he caught just 16 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns in nine games. It’s worth noting that Stafford’s best season (47 receptions, 732 yards, and nine touchdowns) came in 2015 where he caught close to half of his passes from Matt Nichols. Bringing in Stafford to play alongside Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith, and Adams could stabilize the club’s fourth American receiving spot that was in constant rotation for much of last season.

The cost of these four American receivers — approximately $565,000 per season — should spell the end for two Bomber veterans: Rory Kohlert and Clarence Denmark.

Kohlert is the club’s longest-tenured player, joining in the club in 2011. The veteran pass-catcher lost his starting job in the playoffs after a disappointing 29-reception season in which he started all eighteen games at field wide receiver. He is a pending free agent.

Denmark, also a pending free agent, was unceremoniously released last March after a mediocre 2015 campaign. Brought back in July following a rash of injuries to the Blue Bomber receiving corps, Denmark recorded an impressive 53 receptions for 705 yards and eight touchdowns in just ten games. Despite his solid play, Stafford’s youth and size (26, 6’3) makes him a more tantalizing option than Denmark (31, 5’11) for a Bomber club that is looking to add youth and size to its receiving corps.

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