TORONTO - He still has time to get a deal done, but Toronto Argonauts GM Jim Barker won't be surprised if quarterback Zach Collaros tests the CFL free-agent waters.
Collaros, 25, was solid last season, posting a 5-2 record as the starter while incumbent Ricky Ray was injured. Collaros also started Toronto's 23-20 regular-season finale loss to Montreal — Ray didn't dress because the Argos had already clinched first in the East Division — but was one of three quarterbacks to play that day.
The second-year player was especially sharp in a 38-21 win over B.C. on July 30, finishing 21-of-25 passing for 253 yards and three TDs. On Sept. 21, he completed 25-of-36 attempts for 330 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-27 victory over Calgary.
An impressive body of work — 190-of-287 passing (66.2 per cent) for 2,316 yards with 14 TDs and six interceptions while running 59 times for 246 yards and five touchdowns — will no doubt attract attention when the six-foot-two, 216-pound Collaros becomes a free agent Feb. 15. Barker said it's likely Collaros will want to gauge interest before deciding on his football future.
"We'd like to have him back and we're still working on it," Barker said Thursday. "But we'll have to see what happens."
One team in need of a starting quarterback is Winnipeg, which had three different starters en route to posting a league-worst 3-15 record. This off-season, the Blue Bombers also hired former Argos special-teams co-ordinator Mike O'Shea as their new head coach.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats could be a darkhorse with veteran starter Henry Burris also slated to become a free agent. If Burris, 38, doesn't return, that would leave the defending East Division champion with youngsters Dan LeFevour and Jeremiah Massoli along with former NFLers Brian Brohm and Stephen McGee under contract.
The expansion Ottawa Redblacks, who begin play this season, will undoubtedly look at Collaros if he's a free agent but they'll do that with most all players who become available Feb. 15. The franchise selected Calgary's Kevin Glenn and B.C.'s Thomas DeMarco in last month's CFL expansion draft and also has Matt Faulkner, who played collegiately at San Jose State, on the roster.
On Tuesday, veteran Anthony Calvillo retired following 20 seasons in the CFL, but the Montreal Alouettes positioned themselves well for the announcement. In late December, they re-signed former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and youngster Tanner Marsh to extensions, although three-year veteran Josh Neiswander's contract expires Feb. 15.
All three played last season as Calvillo, 41, spent most of 2013 on the sidelines with a concussion.
Ideally, Barker would like Collaros to remain in Toronto in head coach Scott Milanovich's offence and continue being tutored by Ray, one of the CFL's best and most accurate quarterbacks. But other teams can entice Collaros with the chance to start — and earn a starter's paycheque — which Barker can't with Ray under contract with the Argos through the 2015 campaign.
Toronto carried five quarterbacks last season — Ray, Collaros, sophomore Trevor Harris and newcomers Josh Portis and Mitchell Gale. All but Portis saw playing time in 2013, something Barker said would bode well for the Argos if Collaros left.
"If we lose Zach, we're more than happy to have Trevor and the two other guys to compete with him to be No. 2," Barker said. "Trevor has shown he can play in our league while the other two are more than capable."
Collaros isn't the only prominent CFL player poised to become a free agent next month. Among those with expiring contracts who've yet to re-sign with their present clubs include: Montreal offensive lineman Josh Bourke and linebackers Shea Emry and Kyries Hebert; Hamilton linebackers Jamall Johnson and Simoni Lawrence; Winnipeg cornerback Jovon Johnson and linebacker Henoc Muamba; Saskatchewan slotback Weston Dressler, running back Kory Sheets, defensive back Craig Butler and kicker Chris Milo; Calgary defensive lineman Cordarro Law and offensive lineman Dimitri Tsoumpas; Edmonton linebacker Domaso Munoz; and B.C. receiver Nick Moore and defensive lineman Keron Williams.
Collaros is one of 10 potential Toronto free agents, a list that includes kicker Swayze Waters, linebacker Robert McCune and cornerback Pat Watkins. Barker isn't sure if he'll be able to re-sign any of those players before Feb. 15.
"We're trying," he said. "But they all want to go look at it and you have to let them."