Argos, Redblacks playing ‘game of chicken’ with their quarterback situation

Screengrab courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

There is no position as important to a football team as the man under center and CFL teams are planning accordingly, quickly renegotiating deals with their star passers in an effort to maintain continuity through the pandemic-generated financial turmoil.

While B.C.’s Mike Reilly, Edmonton’s Trevor Harris, Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell, Montreal’s Vernon Adams Jr. and Saskatchewan’s Cody Fajardo have already taken their 2021 pay cut, TSN insider Farhan Lalji believes some of the remaining franchises have decided to gamble by playing hard ball.

“You’ve got the high-end guys getting done and then you’ve got some guys just playing a game of chicken and hoping they can get their guy done last, because if they can get their guy done last, that player has absolutely no leverage,” Lalji said on the SportsCage on Wednesday.

Four clubs have yet to announce a quarterback renegotiation, but the situation in Winnipeg appears amicable between Zach Collaros and the Bombers, while Hamilton can afford to lose pending free agent Jeremiah Masoli with a proven starter in Dane Evans already under contract.

It’s the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks that have engaged their projected starters in a contractual staring contest, hoping a lack of landing spots forces their signal-caller to sign a deal on the team’s terms.

In Toronto, quarterback Matt Nichols has been asked to cut his contract by 40 percent and the Argonauts are holding firm on a policy of not offering signing bonuses, typically a staple in CFL renegotiations.

While these deals are sometime win-win scenarios where players sacrifice some long-term pay in favour of equivalent tax breaks, there is no compensating for the cut to Nichols’ pocketbook, with Lalji reporting earlier this week that the two sides are still miles apart.

“You can’t make 40 percent back in the form of a signing bonus tax relief benefit,” Lalji explained. “In terms of what’s being offered, I’m not sure Matt is necessarily offended at the overall compensation. Its just the issue of zero signing bonus, zero protection.”

The idea of a CFL quarterback agreeing to terms without a signing bonus is virtually unheard of and the percentage of salary Nichols is being asked to give up is in another realm than the sacrifices of his peers.

“It’s a big cut, it’s a substantial cut,” Lalji emphasized. “Its certainly a bigger cut than the other quarterbacks are taking.”

In Ottawa, the Redblacks are playing a similar game of hardball with the young Nick Arbuckle. After bursting onto the scene as the backup behind Bo Levi Mitchell in Calgary, Arbuckle got his payday in Ottawa after being acquired in exchange for a 2020 CFL Draft pick.

Expected to make north of $430,000 next season, general manager Marcel Desjardins has made clear the first year starter will be expected to take a significant cut but neither side has said much since.

The issue for both Arbuckle and Nichols is that if they can’t come to an agreement with their current club, their employment options will be severely limited with seven of the nine starting jobs already occupied. With Masoli also potentially on the market — along with 2019 passing touchdowns leader McLeod Bethel-Thompson — someone will be left on the outside of the QB carousel.

“If Marcel Desjardins is hardline enough that he decides to cut Nick Arbuckle, it’s not like he’s going to give a whole whack of money to Matt Nichols,” Lalji explained.

The longer the new contracts remain unsigned, the more leverage the teams have and neither quarterback wants to be the last one to put pen to paper. CFL fans must now wait with bated breath to see who blinks first.