How Collaros Stole the Bombers from Nichols
It’s rumour season in the CFL.
Like a high school hallway during last period before the year end dance, everyone has an opinion on who has interest in each other and where the perfect match might be.
At this years proverbial CFL free agent soiree there are plenty of attractive suitors and teams dearly in need of them as that piece that might complete the never ending Grey Cup puzzle.
There are plenty of philosophies when approaching a keynote winter mixer like free agency, a process made that much more entertaining by the CFL’s new free agency window.
Some will choose to focus on bringing back their own, others will look for the hottest, most expensive date possible in hopes of making a splash everyone is talking about the morning after.
As my friend and former Ticats offensive line coach John Salavantis always told me the best approach “is to dance with the one that brought you.”
The Bombers turned their nose at that Monday by officially re-signing QB Zach Collaros and announcing their intent to release incumbent starter Matt Nichols as he begins to search for his next opportunity.
Why would the Bombers do this? The risk is unmistakable, but so is the reward as we all witnessed at the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary two short months ago.
In Collaros the Bombers attained and have now retained a passer who many - including myself - perceived as a banged up reclamation project with a high ceiling, but unable to sustain.
For four games Collaros’ star shined bright as any CFL passer as he dinked, dunked and occasionally big play chunked his way to a Grey Cup victory. Here is what it looked like.
What you likely notice first is an unwillingness to challenge the middle of the field anywhere beyond check downs and crossers but Collaros four game championship stretch was not built on fear, rather knowing when to take chances.
You might think that’s just semantics but allow me to explain. Collaros threw the ball more vertically than Matt Nichols or Chris Streveler did in his short time with the 2019 Bombers while also playing the safe, sound type of complimentary football that wins you a Grey Cup without ever throwing a touchdown in the final four quarters of the season.
In relying on those around him Zach found a re-newed sense of energy and the type of creative play-making we came to expect from him in the 2015 pre-ACL Ticats era.
Success is all about timing and fit. Look at Vernon Adams Jr. securing a starting spot and a considerable bank account bump today after being converted to receiver and released from the Ticats just two years ago.
Collaros ‘fit’ into the Bombers perfectly for several reasons but this next note was my favourite. Some quarterbacks surrounded by a great running back, talented defence and elite special teams settle.
The nestle themselves comfortably into their role as a smaller piece of the team than most quarterbacks expect and know they can coast to victories on the strength of their surroundings so long as they don’t make a mistake.
He embraced the role and I felt watching his memorable playoff run in tandem with QB Chris Streveler that Collaros was constantly lurking quietly ready to pounce with the one or two big plays needed to get Winnipeg to a level not experienced in 29-years.
THAT was the beauty of adding Collaros to the fold late last season. His knowledge of the game, drive to prove doubters wrong and a skill set still as respected as any in the CFL when healthy allowed Collaros to pick and choose his spots as the Bombers passing playbook opened wide for the Steubenville, Ohio native.
Sure he threw check downs. Yes he had a ridiculously high rate of throws under 10-yards down the field but the numbers do not tell the full story of his championship past, and they’ll have an even harder time predicting his near future.
How do we know how Collaros will adapt to the Bombers new offence after losing Paul LaPolice to become Head Coach in Ottawa?
How will Collaros be able to produce at the same level without having the monster truck shot out of hell named Chris Streveler absorbing all the bumps, bruises and eventually breaks for him?
Why would a player who just authored the most romantic autobiographical chapter of his professional life try to write another chapter in the same place when it’s hard to imagine a better ending ever being possible?
We don’t have answers to much of this, but that’s what makes this time of year so much fun. Your imagination wanders as you build fantasy rosters capable of setting league records or coaching staffs compiled full of unique personalities and systems that can maximize a players ability.
Zach Collaros believes that perfect fit, that match made in heaven for him and his family right now is Winnipeg.
The Bombers agreed despite their more established history with Matt Nichols. He’s now left standing along the cold hard gymnasium wall watching the girl he dated for four years spin around the dance floor with Collaros.
For the first time in 2020 a rumour has become reality, and it is just the first of many to come in the following days and weeks that will shape the 2020 CFL season.
Marshall Ferguson is a former U SPORTS Quarterback, now serving as TSN 1150 Hamilton morning show host, voice of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and CFL.ca analyst