Zach Collaros was a coveted prize ahead of the CFL's upcoming free agency period on February 15. And the bidding season began early when the Toronto Argonauts chose to release their backup quarterback Wednesday.
But, ultimately, the 25-year-old Cincinnati product came to a quick decision on his future, as Collaros signed a deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that will have him in Steeltown through 2016. The team announced later in the day that they had released their incumbent QB Henry Burris, who has since been offered a substantial multi-year deal by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, according to TSN's Farhan Lalji.
“I can't wait to work with [Hamilton head coach Kent Austin], and the talent [Hamilton] already have on their roster,” Collaros told TSN Thursday, before flying to Hamilton for a team physical and press conference Friday morning.
Both Hamilton and Winnipeg contacted Collaros hours after he was released by the Argos. Collaros left the negotiations to his agents, Mike Simon and Greg Diulus, and decided to focus on discussing his potential place in both the Ticats and Bombers' offence.
Collaros said speaking with Austin, the Grey Cup-winning quarterback and head coach, was like revisiting his college recruitment process. After Austin first spoke to Collaros Wednesday, the quarterback told TSN he was leaning "heavily" toward signing with Hamilton. Collaros came to a decision Wednesday night.
“It wasn't a long process. It was kind of a crazy 24 hours. I couldn't be happier where I am,” Collaros said. “Coach Austin is an unbelievable coach.
“We talked pretty extensively, and he did a really good job of recruiting. Who he's worked with, obviously the numbers the quarterbacks under him have put up, and the success he's had winning games; it was kind of a no brainer when it came down to it.”
Winnipeg was long considered the frontrunner to sign Collaros, especially after Ottawa Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins insisted he would take no free agents during December's dispersal draft —opting instead for veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn, and B.C.'s Thomas DeMarco - and Calgary re-signed both Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell.
Nevertheless, several CFL sources insisted Hamilton's interest in Collaros extended back before the Ticats advanced to the 101st Grey Cup. And now that Austin has signed the player he wants, 38-year-old Henry Burris is looking for a new starting job, again.
“The first thing I would say is [Burris] is a little sad,” Burris's agent Chris Gittings told TSN. Gittings said there had been discussions “off and on” between the Ticats and Burris about a new contract before the start of the 2013 season.
“[Burris] understands how professional football works, and coming up on free agency we were prepared that anything could happen. It just means in [Burris's] amazing career he is going to have a new chapter.”
Austin spoke directly to Burris about his release Thursday morning, but the veteran pivot didn't share Austin's reasoning, if any, to his agent. Burris threw nearly 5,000 yards in 2013, despite sharing snaps with Dan LeFervour and Jeremiah Masoli. But Gittings never heard Burris express any frustrations.
“Kent does a good job in that system, and there is a lot to like about it in terms of rotating quarterbacks,” Gittings said. “I never heard any complaining from Henry about it. You just don't hear any complaints from Henry, period."
After being traded by Calgary before the 2012 season, Burris threw 10,292 yards, tossing 67 touchdowns and 37 interceptions in two season in southern Ontario.
“Look at how [Burris] has played over the last two years," Gittings said. "Look at how he played in the Eastern Final [against Toronto]. That doesn't lie. It is tough to say it's an exaggeration. He has played among the top quarterbacks in the CFL year in and year out, and the last two years have been fantastic years from him.”
Gittings did not deny widely-reported interest from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and insisted other teams have shown interest in Burris, although he would not name or number any other suitors.
“For any team out there that is looking to get a starting quarterback or upgrade their starting quarterback position you would think they would be interested in Henry,” Gittings said.
Nonetheless, Collaros's arrival in Hamilton does not necessarily mean he is automatically the Ticats starter. Austin did not explicitly tell Collaros where he falls on Hamilton's quarterback depth chart, which still includes LeFevour, and Masoli, as well as former NFLers Stephen McGee and Brian Brohm.
“[Austin] really didn't discuss [who Hamilton's starter will be],” Collaros said. “It was just moreso: ‘We want you here in Hamilton,' and ‘We think it's a good situation for you.'”
Although the market for starting pivots this CFL offseason was admittedly slim, Collaros's stock rose with several impressive displays in 2013.
With Toronto star quarterback Ricky Ray out with a knee then shoulder injury, Collaros started seven games, appeared in 14 games, and threw 2,316 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. He led Toronto to a league-record four-game, road win streak between late August and late September.
After his obligations in Hamilton Friday, Collaros will head back to his offseason home in Ohio, but will immediately commit time to return to Hamilton in the spring to start his work with Austin and Ticats offensive coordinator Tommy Condell.
“I'm looking forward to meeting anybody and getting to work,” Collaros said.