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'A really crazy adventure:' Arbuckle happy to be with Argonauts after eventful 2020


TORONTO — Three teams, three contract negotiations, a 33,000-kilometre relocation with another move on the way, a layoff caused by a global pandemic and a new baby.

A lot has happened to Nick Arbuckle since he last took a snap in a CFL game.

The new Argonauts quarterback said life has been "a really crazy adventure" since his long road to Toronto began at the end of the 2019 season, when he was still a member of the Calgary Stampeders.

Arbuckle's rights were acquired by Ottawa in January 2020 and the signed an extension with the Redblacks, but didn't suit up in the nation's capital after that year's season was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then, as negotiations with Ottawa for the proposed 2021 CFL season stalled, he was part of a roundabout swap of quarterbacks between the Redblacks and Argos.

Toronto released quarterback Matt Nichols, who was picked up by Ottawa on Sunday. The Redblacks then released Arbuckle, who was snapped up by the Argos on Monday. 

The move reunites Arbuckle with Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie, who was Arbuckle's quarterbacks coach in Calgary. 

"I didn't foresee not being back in Ottawa until maybe the weekend or so," Arbuckle said from Ottawa in a video conference Wednesday. "So it was kind of a quick turnaround, but I couldn't be happier to be in the situation I'm in now. 

"It was a long way around to try to get to Toronto, but I think in the end being back with Dinwiddie and a lot of the players that I'm familiar with ... I can't wait to get down there. So I just feel I'm in the place I'm supposed to be."

The 27-year-old Arbuckle hopes the move to Toronto will finally get him the starting quarterback opportunity that was denied because of the virus last season in Ottawa. 

Arbuckle spent his first two CFL seasons as a backup to star Bo Levi Mitchell in Calgary, but looked good filling in when needed. Arbuckle won four of seven games as a starter for Calgary in 2019 while Mitchell was injured.

"I'm definitely not excepting to walk in (to Argos camp) as the Day 1 starter," Arbuckle said. "I don't think that works in professional sports no matter who you are. You've got to earn your job and earn the right to become a starter."

While Arbuckle doesn't expect to be handed the starting role, it appears to be his to lose. The only other quarterback currently on Toronto's roster is Canadian Michael O'Connor.

"My relationship with Dinwiddie has always been tremendous," Arbuckle said. "Without him, I wouldn't be in the position I am now as a quarterback in the CFL.

"Coming up here I've done a lot of growth and a lot of development under him as my quarterback coach ever since I arrived in Calgary, and I'm much better now than I was when I first came to Calgary a few years ago because of all the work I got in with Dinwiddie."

Arbuckle will also get the chance to work with a revamped receiving corps in Toronto that includes former Stamps Eric Rogers and DaVaris Daniels and former NFL wideout Martavis Bryant.

"It's going to be a really exciting offence to be a part of, and I'm really looking forward to reuniting with Eric and DaVaris and some of those guys I spent a lot of time with in the locker room in Calgary already," he said.

While Arbuckle is looking forward to the chance to further his career in Toronto, he isn't sure why contract negotiations with the Redblacks failed. Arbuckle said he offered to restructure his contract to get Ottawa under the salary cap, the same way quarterbacks Vernon Adams, Cody Fajardo and Trevor Harris did with their teams.

"Unfortunately, even at the end when we were willing to take the biggest pay reduction of any quarterback in the entire league and we still couldn't come to an agreement between our two sides, it started to feel like they didn't quite see me in their plans as much as they had the year before," Arbuckle said.

"I don't know why that happened. I haven't had that conversation and I don't know if I ever will."

Despite the pandemic-related layoff and the failed contract negotiation, one positive memory from Arbuckle's time in Ottawa is the birth of his daughter Aaliyah, the first child for the QB and his wife, Zakiyyah.

"It was a blessing, the opportunity to be there from the birth, every single day, never missing a moment, getting to notice every time she made a new noise, got a new milestone," he said.

"I didn't know what to expect," he added. "I'd never even held a baby until we had a baby. But the sleep schedule wasn't great, I can tell you that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2021.

Curtis Withers, The Canadian Press