Matt Nichols will get a chance to continue what he started with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The 29-year-old quarterback signed a three-year contract extension Wednesday with Winnipeg. Nichols was scheduled to become a free agent Feb. 14 but had no interest leaving the franchise he led to the CFL playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“There was never any thought in my mind to go anywhere else,” Nichols told reporters. “We started some great things last year and my time here has been incredible.”
Financial details weren’t immediately available but Nichols will reportedly earn between $400,00 and $450,000 over the course of the deal.
“I think where we ended up was fair for both sides,” Bombers GM Kyle Walters said.
It’s been a busy off-season for Walters, who in December received a three-year extension from the Bombers. Walters re-signed head coach Mike O’Shea in December and this week came to terms with receivers Darvin Adams, another pending free agent, and Kenny Stafford â€” a former Eskimo and Montreal Alouette.
But keeping Nichols in Winnipeg was a top priority.
“Obviously it was going to take some time on both sides,” Walters said. “But we’re ecstatic as an organization to get this finalized and continue building for 2017 and beyond.”
Winnipeg acquired Nichols from Edmonton on Sept. 2, 2015 to back up incumbent Drew Willy. Nichols replaced Willy last July following the Bombers’ 1-4 start and provided an immediate boost, leading the franchise to seven straight wins.
With Nichols under centre, Winnipeg posted an 11-7 record to finish third in the West Division. The former Eastern Washington star was 10-3 as the Bombers’ starter and recorded career highs in passing yards (3,666), TDs (18), attempts (471) and completions (327) with just nine interceptions.
“That was the first opportunity where I was playing not because someone in front of me was injured,” Nichols said. “It was my first opportunity to put my personality out there a little bit more and play the way I used to play (at EWU).
“I could take that leadership role whereas when you’re playing for a guy that’s injured you don’t want to step on too many toes or change too many things because that guy is going to be coming back in a few weeks.”
But a promising season ended bitterly. Winnipeg couldn’t make a 19-point first-half lead stand in a heart-breaking 32-31 loss to B.C. in the West semifinal.
When training camps open in June, Nichols will be a bona fide CFL starter for the first time since coming to Canada in October 2010 to join the Eskimos. Injuries limited Nichols to just 12 starts in 45 career games with Edmonton.
“It’s been a long road,” Nichols said. “It was hard to imagine after all the things I’ve been through to find yourself in this position.
“All I can say is it’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of people believing in me. At 29, I feel like my career is just getting started and I look forward to many more years playing football in this city.”
Nichols is excited to have a receiving corps that features Adams, former Eskimos teammate Stafford and veterans Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith. And there’s the added benefit of returning for a second season in offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice’s system.
“That’s huge for me,” Nichols said. “I haven’t had a connection with a co-ordinator like I did this year since college.
“We just seemed to be on the same page all the time. The more successful teams in the league are ones that have had the same systems and same coaches around and to be able to have that stability is a big reason for coming back.”
And although he’s firmly entrenched as Winnipeg’s starter, Nichols was emphatic he won’t let complacency set in.
“I’ve seen guys come and go over the years and so I know how it is to keep a job like this,” he said. “I feel more and more confident with every rep I get on that field.
“I’ve had plenty of make-or-break moments in my career, where my career could be over if I don’t go in and perform well. It doesn’t change with the fact that you’re a starter going into a season. You need to perform; you know how quickly things can change.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press