Veteran quarterback Nichols looking forward to playing under LaPolice again in Ottawa

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Matt Nichols is betting a 2021 CFL season will be played.

The veteran quarterback's two-year deal with the Ottawa Redblacks reportedly includes a $200,000 report-and-pass bonus. To collect the money, the 33-year-old American must report to training camp and pass his physical.

And for that to happen, there has to be a regular season. The CFL didn't play football in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The six-foot-two, 215-pound Nichols was due a $220,000 roster bonus Monday from the Toronto Argonauts. But Nichols was released by the club Sunday and quickly signed with Ottawa, reuniting with Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice.

The two spent four seasons together with Winnipeg — LaPolice was the club's offensive co-ordinator — winning a Grey Cup with the Bombers in 2019.

"I'm comfortable with that (report-and-pass bonus) because I'm 100 per cent healthy," Nichols said during a videoconference Tuesday. "Obviously I'm rooting for there to be a season as much as anyone.

"It was something they requested and I don't mind. My family and I are doing just fine so it doesn't matter to me to wait a few months to get that money."

Hours after being released by Toronto, Nichols signed with Ottawa. The Redblacks cut young quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who reportedly was due a $150,000 roster bonus Monday.

Arbuckle ended up signing a one-year deal with Toronto that's said to have included a $150,000 signing bonus.

The '21 CFL season is scheduled to kick off June 10, but that's hardly etched in stone given the global pandemic.

Nichols is confident the league can make football happen this year.

"There wouldn't be some of these big bonuses going out if there wasn't a plan for a season," Nichols said. "I think it's important we play this year and I fully expect there to be a season.

"Whether that's 18 games, nine games, 12 games, I have no idea, I don't think anyone knows. But for sure there'll be some type of season and I'll be ready to go whenever they tell me to get on a plane."

Like all CFL players, Nichols' last football action came in 2019. He was enjoying a banner campaign (71.25 per cent completion average, 15 TDs, five interceptions and 107.2 quarterback rating) and led Winnipeg to a 7-2 record before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

Nichols could only watch as veteran Zach Collaros, acquired at the trade deadline, guided Winnipeg past the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 for its first Grey Cup title since 1990.

Nichols signed a three-year deal with Toronto in February 2020, but never played with the club. Nichols said he holds no resentment toward the Argos, who let him go after talks to restructure his deal reportedly soured.

"I don't look at where things went wrong in certain places or things I can't control," he said. "I know I'm at a place I want to be with people I want to be around and a culture I think can produce a lot of winning football.

"That excites me and that's all I'm worried about. That doesn't add anything extra for me."

And at a time when one-year contracts in the CFL are commonplace, Nichols had no issues going longer in Ottawa.

"I want to commit to being there and building something," he said. "It makes sense for me to sign for more than one year when it's somewhere I want to be."

There's plenty of work to do in Ottawa, which had a league-worst 3-15 record in 2019. But Nichols thinks he can take command of LaPolice's offence right off the bat.

"We have a great relationship (and) a great working relationship," Nichols said. "I know this offence inside and out . . . and just understanding him as a playcaller, we just vibe together very well.

"I feel I know what play is coming in before he even calls it because we're on the same page. To be able to have that as a quarterback, you can't place a value on that and I think that we've done a lot of successful things together and I look forward to continue that."

Given there was no '20 season, Nichols said his shoulder ailment is definitely a thing of the past.

"I'm in the best shape of my life because we've had a year of just working out," he said. "I feel great.

"I felt like I was playing my best football right before the injury. Being in an offence I know inside and out, there won't be any kind of learning curve with that. I wish we were starting tomorrow.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press