After five-and-a-half seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos, quarterback Matt Nichols is off to new pastures. The Eskimos traded Nichols to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Wednesday for a conditional seventh-round pick. It's a deal that could work for both sides, as James Franklin had moved past Nichols in Edmonton, and the Eskimos are still hoping to get season starter Mike Reilly (who suffered a bad knee injury in their season opener in June) back at some point, while Winnipeg's desperate for quarterback help now that Drew Willy's gone for 6-8 weeks with a knee injury of his own, and backups Robert Marve and Brian Brohm haven't been too effective so far. Whatever the outcome, this is a gamble worth taking for the Bombers, as the cost is awfully low and Nichols has shown flashes of potential. It also allows the Eskimos to focus more on developing Franklin and Jordan Lynch and possibly gain a draft pick as well. The big question is if Nichols will be able to revitalize his once-promising career in Winnipeg, though, or if a change of scenery isn't going to change much for him.
Nichols has had some high points during his time with the Eskimos, including winning the starting job down the stretch in 2012 and leading the team into the playoffs. That led to his first major setback, though, a broken leg he suffered in the East semi-final loss to Toronto. Nichols bounced back and competed with new acquisition Mike Reilly for the starting job in 2013, even earning the start in the team's first preseason game, but then tore his ACL trying to make a tackle and missed the whole season. That paved the way for Reilly's ascension, and while the Eskimos thought enough of Nichols to sign him to a two-year extension that offseason, he's been primarily a backup since then, mostly playing when Reilly was hurt. He has put up some decent numbers, throwing for 1,014 yards last season and 1,488 so far this year, but there are concerns with his statistics as well.
For one thing, Nichols' CFL completion percentage is just 60.9 per cent on his career, which is a bit on the low side. That's trending down, too; he posted a 62.3 per cent mark last year, but only 61.2 per cent this year. Interceptions have also been a concern with him lately. which is particularly troubling considering that Nichols was widely regarded as a safe choice who made good decisions. He showed that in 2012, tossing seven touchdowns against three picks, but threw four touchdowns and five interceptions last year and eight TDs to 10 picks so far this season. Those interceptions are really reflected in his passer rating, which was 107.7 in 2012 despite a 57.8 per cent completion rate, but fell to 77.0 in 2014 and 75.6 this year.
If Nichols can find the level of decision-making he showed in 2012 with an improved completion percentage, he might be a great fit in Winnipeg. That's especially important considering the struggles Brohm and Marve have had so far. Don't expect him to start right away, as learning a new offence and new teammates will take time, but Nichols does have the advantage of substantial CFL experience, which should make his transition faster than it would be for a newly-signed rookie. It seems likely he will eventually get a chance to start, too. We'll see what he does with that; if he can find his old form, this might work out well for both parties and give his career a new lease on life, but if he continues his pick-heavy ways of late, this second act may not last long.