Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/12/2016 (1606 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With the head coach and general manager locked up for the foreseeable future, the focus shifts to the quarterback, the next most important asset on the football club. As big and critical as the ongoing negotiation with Matt Nichols is for the future of the team in 2017, it always comes down to leverage; who has it and who doesn't.
It’s never a good thing when your 10-win quarterback is without a contract and only a couple months away from being able to sign with whomever he chooses, but that's the situation after franchise QB Drew Willy was unexpectedly traded away after a disastrous start to the season and his understudy took the reins.
With the negotiation rumoured to be between $400,000 (offered) and $450,000 (asked), it’s worth examining who holds what clout at the table.
While the ground rules don't allow other teams to talk to pending free agents until February, it would be naive to assume that Nichols' agent doesn't already know what the outside interest on his client is. General Manager Kyle Walters is guessing what that amounts to and how much he'll have to pay to keep Nichols in blue and gold. Sure, he could call the quarterback's bluff, letting him test the free-agency waters, but that comes with the very real risk that he'll sign elsewhere.
So how much is Nichols worth as a starting quarterback? Statistically, Nichols is a middle-of-the-pack quarterback. His best number, in comparison to other starting pivots, is his 69 per cent completion percentage, but seems to be the product of tossing more short, quick passes than anyone else. No one other than Darian Durant and Drew Willy had fewer yards recorded per pass. And when it comes to efficiency rating for quarterbacks in the CFL, if you look at the numbers put up by those who played more than 10 games, only Durant had a lower rating.
This isn’t to suggest that Nichols is a bad QB; he went on a seven-game winning streak and won 10 games, but he is not yet elite. He is a better pivot in Winnipeg than anywhere else because he plays in an offence that matches his skill set. In 2015, playing in a different offence, with different teammates, he went two and five in his seven starts.
Of the three teams that do not have established quarterbacks right now, Saskatchewan's head coach traded Nichols away for practically nothing when he was in Edmonton. Toronto already made a big play for a Winnipeg quarterback, and considering what they gave up for Drew Willy, and what that said about his potential, it's highly unlikely they'd look this way again while QB shopping. Montreal might be interested, but Nichols is a complementary piece, not a saviour, and the Alouettes are currently a team with an identity crisis.
Based off a single year of success, a reasonable figure is that Nichols is worth between $300,000 and $350,000 to the Bombers. But Nichols needs this franchise as much as it needs him. He has never been as good as he was in 2016 and it's been a long time since the Bombers were as successful as they turned out to be.
The thing is, every $1,000 he collects beyond that $300,000 takes away from the supporting cast. Without the funds to pay for the offensive line protecting him, the running game he had and the quick-hitting passing attack he was able to engineer, he is not nearly as good. It is not reasonable to think his defence is going to hand him the ball at the same pace in 2017, and without those turnovers, the club has to be able to pay for ongoing lineup renovations.
Winnipeg currently has most of the parts that Nichols needs to be successful, and vice versa, but if they compromise other positions by overpaying him, and have to count on him to carry the team, they will soon find out what the limitations of a "system quarterback," really are.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.