One holding penalty away from a Grey Cup win.
One torn ACL away from what could have been the greatest season in franchise history.
But this is not horseshoes nor hand grenades, so ‘close’ means exactly the same as ‘not’.
The Zach Collaros era was officially terminated in Hamilton Wednesday, four months after it unofficially ended with June Jones replacing Jeremiah Masoli’s clipboard with a football.
It was as inevitable as nightfall but when the sun did, as expected, go down with Collaros’s trade on Wednesday to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, it still left the melancholic aftertaste of this-might-have-been-so-different.
Collaros was well on his way to becoming Hamilton’s first homegrown marquee quarterback — OK he, like Masoli started elsewhere (read, Toronto), but he became a real star here — in at least three decades when he was bushwhacked by a severe knee injury in September, 2015.
Two seasons later Collaros’s team started 0-8, Kent Austin stepped down, and Jones brought in the committed running game (abetted by superior situations at offensive tackle), that would benefit Masoli, but not the man he replaced …. now permanently.
If Collaros doesn’t get hurt in 2015, if Austin makes the coaching move earlier, if the tackles had been sorted out, if Speedy Banks had been used more regularly as a field-stretcher ….
But it doesn’t mean squat, especially in the CFL, the iffiest of all leagues.
So here is what Ticats fans are looking at, now and in the near future.
The local heroes received a 10th overall choice in this spring’s CFL draft for a quarterback who likely has a lot of life left in that arm, those legs and, particularly, that studious mind. Doesn’t seem like much but remember that Collaros carries a salary which was going to be the CFL’s largest this year. It will likely now be renegotiated downward in Saskatchewan but wasn’t going to be renegotiated here, meaning the Ticats would have had to cut him a check for $200,000 — weighing against the salary cap — on Feb. 1.
As in all deals like this, there had to be an asking price before that deadline, and a much higher asking price after it. The Riders, as they should have, chose Door One.
The Ticats, while arguably shorted on the return, still benefit by having far more money to spread among Masoli, their other prioritized free agents and, possibly, Johnny Manziel.
They also now have four of the first 15 picks in a draft in which, Austin says, there is more quality “especially at positions we might need.” You can decipher that a number of ways but receiver is a need, and so will the defensive line be if Ted Laurent’s free agent asking price carries him out of town.
All this said, Masoli is not yet signed, but trading Collaros indicates that’s imminent. It’s been reported that both he and Banks are in town, ready to ink deals.
“Nothing official,” Austin told The Spectator of Masoli’s status. “But stay tuned.”
“Nothing official, but stay tuned.”
You might argue that Masoli does not have the long-term potential for ultra-stardom but you’d get a debate from Jones and does that matter now? What has happened lately is that Masoli was 6-4 for a team that ended the season on an upswing, actually became a concern for opponents and can’t wait for 2018 to begin. He’s also shown some of the true growth that comes with being an uncontested starter, protecting the football in a way that didn’t seem possible earlier in his career. As Austin says, his mechanics still need work, but he’s one of the hardest-working players on the team.
“We value self-awareness,” Austin says, “a real understanding of where one is in his development, and what one has to do to work on it. It’s a type of humility … and Jeremiah has that.”
For his part Collaros, frustrated all season, gets a new start and told Spectator football writer Drew Edwards, “When I signed the contract extension (in 2016), it was the place where I wanted to finish my career. The last year, things didn’t work out the way anyone wanted them to. Am I disappointed in how it ended? Obviously. I’m not going to win a Grey Cup in Hamilton.”
Staying in the quarterback realm, the Ticats have until Sunday at noon to offer Manziel a contract, even one he doesn’t accept, and they’ll retain his exclusive CFL negotiation rights for another year. Austin says he’s been in constant contact with Manziel’s agent Erik Burkhardt, but says the team probably won’t announce to the public whether or not they’ve made him an offer.
But he’s an asset and, therefore, they will make him an offer. If they haven’t already.
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