Columnist image
Dave Naylor

TSN Football Insider


The trade that sent Zach Collaros to Toronto on Wednesday is about trying to saving a team’s season and a player’s career.

But in the desperate situation of a winless football team, it was a move the Toronto Argonauts had to make.

The Argos have been a wreck on offence this season, averaging just 12.5 offensive points per game, roughly nine fewer than the eighth-place club in this all-important category.

Quarterbacks James Franklin and MacLeod Bethel-Thompson couldn’t get the job done last season under Marc Trestman and have been no more effective this year under head coach Cory Chamblin and offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine.

With fans, commentators, and, presumably, owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, frustrated at the Argos' failure to solve the quarterback quandary, something had to be done.

With the Argos in tough against Winnipeg Thursday, the team is likely to head into its bye week winless and at least three games out of a playoff spot.

Enter Collaros, the veteran quarterback general manager Jim Popp tried to acquire via trade from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the second half of the 2017 season after he’d been benched in favour of Jeremiah Masoli. If that trade had happened, it would have been Collaros – not Franklin – who would have entered last season as the backup to Ricky Ray in Toronto and the heir to the No. 1 job.

Instead, Collaros’ rights were dealt to Saskatchewan after the season. He missed four regular- season games in 2018 with a head injury early in the year before being knocked out of the regular-season finale with another concussion.

After recovering during the off-season, Collaros returned to Saskatchewan one-year deal with a base pay of $300,000, plus play-time incentives, mitigating the Roughriders’ risk of another injury.

That turned out to be prudent, since his stat line for 2019 reads one carry for seven yards – a play that ended with a head hit from Simoni Lawrence that resulted in a two-game suspension and ended Collaros’ time in green and white.

Cleared by Saskatchewan doctors after passing baseline testing just this week, he will be eligible to practise with Toronto once they return from next week’s bye.

With a week of playbook study and another week of practice, Collaros could be ready to play by the Aug. 16 home game against Edmonton. But it’s more likely that he could start a week later when the Argos face the Alouettes in Moncton, N.B., which is also when Franklin is eligible to come off the six-game injured list.

Until then, the Argos will trot out Bethel-Thompson at least once more against the Blue Bombers on Thursday. If he struggles as he did a week ago against Edmonton, presumably the hook will be quick with third-year Dakota Prukop and rookie Michael O’Connor waiting in the wings. It’s not out of the question that those two could share all the reps against the Eskimos coming out of the bye, while Franklin continues to heal and Collaros gets up to speed.

All of which raises the question of what happens to Franklin and/or Bethel-Thompson if Collaros can stay healthy. It sure feels like the window is closing on their respective chances to be the guy for the Argonauts. Once you’ve had two chances to hold the starting quarterback job with a team, there is rarely a third.

Is there trade value for either of them in a league where quarterbacks are dropping by the minute? Perhaps. 

There’s a lot of moving parts at the game’s most important position in the middle of a season, but this is reality in Argoland. It has been that way ever since the injury in Week 2 of 2018 that ended Ray’s career.

In a perfect world, Collaros will rediscover the health and consistency that, not all that long ago, made him the league’s highest-paid player. With success, he wouldn’t only save Toronto’s season and Popp’s job; he could also sign an extension to stay in the city where he already makes his full-time home.

But that’s an awfully sunny forecast for a team that could sure use a rainbow or two.

Evans steps into the spotlight

A team that looked as secure as any at the quarterback position suddenly finds itself counting on an unproven sophomore the rest of the way.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are the class of the East at 5-1, and it looked like they would comfortably run away with the division. Then quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tore his ACL on a non-contact play last Friday against Winnipeg, ending his season.

Into the spotlight steps Dane Evans, the 25-year-old son of a football coach who starred at the University of Tulsa and beat out Vernon Adams during training camp in 2018 to earn the No. 3 job behind Masoli and Johnny Manziel.

While those two battled it out at practice, Evans quietly impressed the coaches with both his smarts and his arm, proving to be a touch passer with a strong ability to anticipate the play evolving in front of him.

The issue is Evans’ lack of playing time, having attempted just 42 passes last season and six this year before being pressed into duty last week in Masoli’s absence. He’s going to make mistakes, but Hamilton should be good enough to overcome those, especially with an offence featuring enough playmakers and balance that Evans won’t be counted on to shoot the lights out with his arm.

Why wouldn’t the Tiger-Cats make a call to someone like Kevin Glenn? The sense is that such a move might undermine the club’s belief that Evans can handle the job, in effect sending the wrong message to the locker room. A phone call to Glenn remains an obvious plan B if things don’t go as hoped, but we’re weeks away from that.

The 2020 Free Agent Class

Their star power isn’t as bright as last off-season but there is an intriguing trio of quarterbacks potentially headed to free agency this coming off-season. None of them is proven, but all have made an impression on the rest of the league.

Given how the market inflated among the league’s top-paid quarterbacks heading into this season, one has to believe the market for promising, still-unproven quarterbacks may be up as well.

At the front of that class is Winnipeg’s Chris Streveler, the second-year player for whom the Bombers design weekly packages, which he has been executing with calmness and precision.

Streveler is a physical freak, a former receiver whose testing scores coming out of college were better than the quarterbacks at the top of his NFL draft class.

Streveler became the first CFL quarterback in 24 years last season to start his team’s season-opening game, stepping straight out of college. He didn’t look overwhelmed and immediately grabbed attention from around the league.

Can Winnipeg really afford to keep him and Matt Nichols beyond this season? Many GMs around the CFL believe that Streveler could start right now. And, if he goes to free agency, at least one of them is presumably going to be willing to pay him more than Winnipeg can in a backup role.

The fact he’s hired agent Dan Vertlieb, who has excelled at increasing salaries for his quarterback clients, is another sign Streveler is looking to maximize his worth this coming off-season.

Calgary’s Nick Arbuckle also comes up for free agency this off-season. And while the wow factor hasn’t been quite as large with the 25-year-old quarterback, it’s been impossible to ignore how composed and efficient he’s been, completing nearly 74 per cent of his passes while filling in for the injured Bo Levi Mitchell this season.

Cody Fajardo signed a one-year deal with Saskatchewan this past off-season, coming off consecutive seasons in Toronto and B.C. where he finished as the No. 3 quarterback.

Neither of those teams saw him as having starter potential in the short term, but in Saskatchewan he’s run away with the No. 1 job, throwing 12 touchdowns against five interceptions and passing for more than four times as many yards as he did during his first three years in the league.

At 27, the he and the Riders would be smart to get something done before the season ends.

Speaking of quarterbacks …

Former Bomber Brandon Collier, who runs a business out of Germany identifying the best international high-school-age players, landed his second European quarterback at a big-time Division I NCAA school this week when 17-year-old Alexander Honig of Germany verbally committed to TCU in Dallas.

Honig follows Luke Wentz, also of Germany, who committed last summer to the University of Virginia, where he will be a freshman this fall.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie and his CFL 2.0 vision would love to see either of these players in the CFL down the road.

Sluggish ticket sales in Moncton

Ambrosie was in Atlantic Canada this week trying to stir up interest in the upcoming CFL game in Moncton between the Argonauts and Alouettes on Aug. 25.

Not so long ago, CFL regular-season games in Atlantic Canada were a hot ticket. But despite reductions in ticket prices for this one, there remain plenty of good seats available.

While the Montreal-Toronto matchup isn’t exactly a winner, this may have more to do with the fact the league’s tenth team, if it in fact happens, is bound for Halifax and not Moncton.

There’s been talk of the new team playing a full season in Moncton and then moving the team to Halifax a year later.

Twice in sports that kind of thing has been tried and both were disasters.

One was when the NHL’s Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes and stopped to play in Greensboro, N.C. while their permanent home was being prepared in Raleigh. The other is when the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee, stopping in Memphis before landing for good in Nashville.

In both cases, fans in the city hadn’t landed the team had little interest doing favours for the one that had. Perhaps some of that explains the sluggish sales in Moncton.