Sunday was an interesting time for both the Toronto Argonauts and the Ottawa Redblacks who both cut ties with quarterbacks who never took a snap for them. Both fan bases have their sour grapes with the move, but one team needs to get the better end of the deal. The only question now, is who is that?
What the Argonauts Got
The Argonauts have picked up Nick Arbuckle, who has been touted as the next starting calibre quarterback in the CFL. He has only been in the CFL for two seasons and has only thrown 263 passes in his career, but he was impressive in his eight appearances with the Stampeders in 2019. Arbuckle completed just over 73 percent of his passes in 2019 for 2,103 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
The Georgia State product has all of the tools in the bag to be a good quarterback in the CFL when things are all said and done, but he still has plenty of development left before he can reach his ceiling. That ceiling, however, is what made Arbuckle so attractive to the Redblacks when they traded the first-overall pick to the Stampeders last winter in exchange for the young signal-caller.
As great as potential is, there is always an inherent danger when you give someone a starting role based on that potential. Some instances have worked out well in the CFL with guys like Trevor Harris, Matt Nichols himself, and others. There is a flip side to this coin, too. Players like Dominique Davis, James Franklin, and Jonathan Jennings have all been given starting jobs and touted as players who could step in and be starters but fell short.
Where Arbuckle falls in line is still unknown. He has all the talent he could need to be a legitimate upper-tier quarterback in the CFL, but the most important steps to take are still in front of him. Let’s for argument sake assume that he takes the next steps this season. He could potentially struggle in 2021, but if the framework is down, the Argos will likely have their QB of the future. Arbuckle is still young by CFL quarterback standards and could start in the league for another 10 plus seasons before he is forced to call it quits.
What the Redblacks Got
The Ottawa Redblacks thought they got their quarterback of the future with Arbuckle, but reuniting Paul LaPolice and Matt Nichols is what they got instead. Nichols was in a situation very similar to Arbuckle in the 2015 season when he was traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from the Edmonton Football Team mid-season for a seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft.
Nichols has been the starter for the Blue Bombers since then and managed to take them to levels they couldn’t reach with Drew Willy, the team's previous starting quarterback. Despite all of the success in Winnipeg, Nichols couldn’t take the Bombers over the hump and win that ever-elusive Grey Cup. Instead, Zach Collaros and Chris Streveler teamed up to end the drought after Nichols went down with an injury in the 2019 season.
Injuries have been Nichols’ biggest concern so far in his time as a starting quarterback in the CFL. He has been unable to stay healthy so far in his CFL career, something that the Redblacks and their fans should be wary of.
“Matt Nichols has put some big numbers in the CFL, when healthy,” said John Rodenburg from TSN 1200 in Ottawa in a Tweet. “The trouble has been the 'healthy' part. He's never started all 18 games in a season, once getting to 17, otherwise, 14 is the high watermark. Dom Davis, keep that shoulder warm.”
When Nichols is healthy, however, he has shown to be one of the more capable starters in the league. While not on the same level as Bo Levi Mitchell or a Mike Rielly, he can be comfortably thrown on a tier with players like Harris, Jeremiah Masoli, and Vernon Adams Jr. As it stands today, Nichols is the better quarterback when you compare one on one with Arbuckle. That can change still, but the Redblacks got the better quarterback as of today.
Nichols’ experience and familiarity with the new head coach and offensive coordinator in LaPolice will also be very important. If there is a shortened training camp or shortened season, the Redblacks should be able to get off to a running start. Bringing in a player who has thrown for nearly 20,000 yards and over 100 touchdowns in the CFL is always a good thing.
So Who Won the Day?
It is very difficult to know who won the day before seeing how Arbuckle performs as a first-time starting QB, so you have to say that the Redblacks got the better end of the stick for this season assuming both players stay healthy. Neither team should be disappointed with the way things went.
What Arbuckle is able to accomplish with the Argonauts will truly decide who wins this quarterback swap. If he turns into a legitimate starting quarterback like Harris or Nichols were able to, the Argos will have clearly won considering the amount of time each player has left in the league. If he turns out to be a Franklin or Brandon Bridge and Nichols performs as expected in Ottawa, then the Redblacks will have won.
For the Redblacks, however, they now need to go all-in on winning a Grey Cup. No matter what Arbuckle is able to accomplish, if Ottawa manages to win its second Grey Cup in its short existence, they likely won’t care who won the swap, and neither will the fans, even if Arbuckle becomes the next CFL star.
So to make a long story short, the Redblacks win this swap if you think about the 2021 season alone, but if you think about the future in the next five to seven years, Arbuckle completely decides everything.