Milton: For Ticats, Zach Collaros represents what could have been

It’s been headed down this road, almost irretrievably, for weeks and weeks, but when Zach Collaros was traded it still left a forlorn echo of what-might-have-been.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats swapped their former starting quarterback to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Wednesday for the 10th overall choice in this spring’s Canadian Football League’s draft of Canadian college players.

The deal metaphorically marks the end of the first stage of Ticat history at Tim Hortons Field, which was opened in phases, beginning on Labour Day, 2014. Collaros was the Hamilton quarterback on that historic afternoon, as Hamilton defeated the Toronto Argonauts 13-12, and Kent Austin was the head coach.

By late August of 2017 and the Ticats’ record at a dismal 0-8, Austin had handed the coaching reins to June Jones and, concurrently, Collaros lost the starting quarterbacking job to Jeremiah Masoli.

And it was Austin, as vice-president of football operations, who traded Collaros Wednesday.

This deal, or one like it, was absolutely necessary for the Tiger-Cats.

Collaros was scheduled to be the highest-paid player in the CFL this year, yet wasn’t even starting, and in a salary-cap league, the Tiger-Cats needed that money to sign pending free agents, one of whom is Masoli. It’s probable that the Ticats will announce in the very near future that Masoli, whom Jones wants back, has a contract.

“Just stay tuned,” Austin told The Spectator Wednesday afternoon.

But while the Ticats move ahead with Masoli, and potentially add former U.S. college sensation and the controversial Johnny Manziel, Austin allowed that he has personal feelings about trading the quarterback he signed away from the Argonauts in January, 2014.

“This is a guy that I wanted, that I brought here,” Austin said. “Every game I coached that he was healthy, he was the starting quarterback. But sometimes, things just don’t work out.

“The road you’re travelling and think is clearly defined in front of you can take a sharp turn pretty quickly.

“I’m happy for Zach. He’s with a competitive football team in a town that loves its players. He’ll be a Rider very quickly and he’ll understand what that means, just like here with our fans.”

The 29-year-old Collaros held Tim Hortons Field crowds in the palm of his hand as he directed the Ticats to 11 straight wins in their new home, but he suffered a torn ACL in mid-September of 2015 and was out of action for 11 months.

At the time, the Tiger-Cats were 8-3 (they finished 10-8) and Collaros led the CFL in most major passing statistics and was the prohibitive favourite to be named the league’s Most Outstanding Player.

Masoli, ranked fourth among Tiger-Cats quarterbacks at the time, didn’t see the field until the season’s final game, but started both of the team’s 2015 playoff games. He started eight more times in 2016 before Collaros returned from injury, then reverted to backup until Jones switched starters for last Labour Day, mostly to give the team a collective shake.

In the space of 24 months, the Tiger-Cats had regressed from a season for the ages to winning just 10 of their next 38 games.

Masoli, behind an improved line and with kick returner Brandon Banks shining as an everyday receiver, had a strong finish to the 2017 season, winning six of his 10 starts. He also showed a dramatic improvement in controlling the football, throwing 14 touchdown passes and only four interceptions during his 10 starts as the team rallied around him.

It was a completely different team from September to November — although it still missed the playoffs — and both Jones and Austin believe Masoli can improve even more this season.

Assuming Masoli is signed in the next few days, the focus of the media and of Ticats’ fans still will not shift away from the quarterback position.

The CFL has given Hamilton until Sunday at noon to offer a contract to Manziel, who is on the team’s negotiation list, making him unavailable to any other CFL team. Manziel, who has a well-documented history of off-field problems in both college and in the National Football League, has all of the physical tools necessary to eventually succeed in the CFL’s wide-open game, but has not played in two years.

He will certainly be offered a contract by Sunday, which would keep him as Hamilton’s CFL property for another year, even if he does not sign that contract.

But it’s unlikely that, unless the team stumbles as mightily as it did to open last season, Manziel or anybody else not named Masoli starts at quarterback.

Steve Milton

Steve Milton

Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.
Steve Milton
Steve Milton
About Steve Milton (209 Articles)
Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.

24 Comments on Milton: For Ticats, Zach Collaros represents what could have been

  1. As usual, Mr. Milton puts it all together better than anyone else can.

    ‘What might have been’ has been a recurring theme since 1999 in a number of ways… a promising reboot in 2004 after being saved from the scrap heap turns to years of bad teams… Jesse Lumsden tears up the field, but then his body stars getting tearing up in short order… #1 draft picks either bust or end up busted up and retired… an awesome offense in 2013 under Cortez and Burris is failed by an awesomely awful D… and it goes on.

    Time to turn the page again and start writing a new story, with the hope this one has a happy ending.

  2. I may be a glass half-full kind of guy but the Collaros era represented a period of success for the TiCats. New sold-out stadium, 2 Grey Cup appearances, and some exciting young players. When healthy Collaros gave fans some exciting football. His injuries coincided with the downfall of the team but the win/loss column last season can attributed to a lack of depth at key positions and weakness of the coaching staff instead of Collaros’ failings. I think this guy is poised for a big comeback in 2018. He’s healthy again and is a classy dude. The Riders are a strong organization as well. He’s in a good situation. I expect some great games out here at McMahon.

  3. Mazoli plays the first 2-3 games in western Canada as manziel gets climatized and then manziel takes over is my prediction.

  4. Geoff Mackey // January 3, 2018 at 9:10 pm //

    The picture should be clearer now that the Zach Collaros shoe has dropped . it will interesting to see if he can recover from the last year’s nightmare for him in Hamilton. He has more quality teams to get past in the West to get to the Grey Cup than in the East. Anything is possible in the CFL, just look what my Argos did in the last Grey Cup.

  5. Wishing Collaros all the best except against the Cats. Were I Masoli I wouldn’t sign until the Cats trade Manzeil. No way that any team sign Manzeil but does not play him. So if I am Masoli why do I want to give up my last chance to be a starter?

  6. A successful rehabilitated and rejuvenated Johnny Manziel will be a win win for everyone. For Johnny himself to get back to NFL; for CFL and Hamilton Tiger-Cats as well as every team in CFL benefiting from media attention coverage and fans will be out to see him play and cheer to see their teams win against him. This could be a momentous year for cfl.

  7. It’s hard to lose a one time MOP calibre QB… but it still takes an entire team to win the Grey Cup… Calgary’s BLM and Edmonton’s Mike Reilly are at times MOP calibre QB’s but haven’t delivered the Cup recently… so maybe the trade of Collaros is addition by subtraction…

    Removing Zach seals the deal for Masoli to be the starter (regardless of the Manziel hype)… this can only reinforce his confidence… and the addition of another top 10 draft pick helps the Ticats restock their National talent pool… maybe there’s another Revenberg in this year’s class…

  8. Could Zach have been the centrepiece of the article written by Drew Edwards at the end of the season about players not wishing to come back if Kent Austin is still here? Why is it that Zach was prepared to renegotiate his contract provided that he was relocated and not renegotiate this contract here in Hamilton???? Zach is too much of a gentlemen to speak out on this but there has to be something here. Steve, this would be a very good story line as I personally think given what we received in return that Zach has lingering injury issues . I for one do not understand this trade. The Argos had offered a package that involved 3 Nationals. The Riders got a good one but they better beef up their offensive line as Zach is injury prone. I wish Zach the best of luck and thank him for his years as a Ticat. When Zach arrived on the scene here, I was “uncertain and lacked confidence” in his abilities to replace Henry Burris. Today this uncertainty has arisen again. Masoli is a very good career backup. I pray that Manziel can regain his form and bring exciting offensive football back to Hamilton.

    • What kool aid are you drinking to miss why Collaros would be unwilling to re-negoatiate his contract to stay in Hamilton but be willing to go else where?

      Under Austin as HC … a ghost of a run game, play calling that assumes the O line/receivers are top notch and no sign of changes to factor in the players on the field or what the opposing defense is doing.

      Under Jones … was it three series or three plays in a multi-dimensional offense.

      As for Masoli, hopefully some issues can be cleaned up but the games under Jones with Masoli as QB were far more exciting than Austin playing Collaros.

      Manziel likely needs time to adjust (never mind whatever time to shed any rust) so unlike others, I expect Masoli to start for quite a while.

  9. Austin is laying it all on the line – if it fails this time , a community dumping of this guy would fit the final chapter of his CFL career

    • Sea of dead // January 4, 2018 at 10:07 am //

      Why wait that long? KA has been a complete bust for two years now and still has a ton of bucks coming to him for another two years … for a guy that supposedly can ONLY coach (NOT!). I knew that KA was horrible at team salary administration but the Caretaker has proven to be even worse.

  10. Zach was given every opportunity to perform and produce and he didn’t. The highest paid player in the league didn’t live up to his paycheck.
    Masoli did perform and produce when he was given the chance.

  11. This too will come back and haunt us in very near future. Bad decision by a bad organization. All the best to Zach in Saskatchewan. Hamilton should invest in the LCBO and weed farms for their new QB who was ignored by 32 teams in the US. Oh wait doesn’t the mayor have an investment in a weed farm? How fitting!

  12. Ticat Mike // January 4, 2018 at 7:21 am //

    Outstanding succint article from Steve. You hit several nails on the head. On the surface, the Cats really didnt’ yield much of a return for a bona fide QB — who knows, maybe he is injured goods??? But the writing was on the wall. I wish Zach all the best. And yes, if he returns to all star form — it will be a resounding, we told you so….and if he flitters and flutters….then it will be memories of what could have been.
    Management is called to make the right decision…. time will tell if they did so.
    As for Masoli — time will tell….is there upside and and higher more consistent level of play in this young man? For Cats sake, let’s hope so. Football is indeed a team game — a much superior defense, upgraded O lines and D lines, and solid special teams will go a long way in making an average QB playing within himself good enough for a team to be very successful.

    • Not sure why so many can’t understand low bids for Collaros. In this case, speculation of an injury is being thrown in.

      Top trade value was the Argo offer during the season by a team in the playoffs.

      Anything in the off season was going to be a lot less as every GM knows that Collaros was not re-vamping the contract to stay in Hamilton and that keeping Collaros at such a high salary with Masoli a FA is a problem.

      Most GMs likely expected Collaros to be cut to save the Feb bonus so there was no chance of a bidding war.

    • Great comment Mike – I have to agree. I have a feeling that Zach WILL return to form. i do hope that the team doesn’t come to regret this decision. Had Zach had the benefit of more solid OL play, better run game and improved defense as Masoli did, I think the Ticats would have made the playoffs and given other teams a run for their money!

  13. Defence wins championships. Keep improving the D and a Masoli, Banks and co. Offence can win the cup

  14. Whether they trade Manziel or keep him signing Masoli is key. We have no idea if Manziel will do well up here but taking immediate pressure off him is a good idea. A former Brown once said that if he had the pressure put on him that Manziel did at the Browns he would kill himself.

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