New Collaros deal is good news – but not without its risks

First, let’s deal with the good news regarding Zach Collaros’ contract extension.

The Ticats quarterback signed a new three-year deal on Monday, one that will keep him in Hamilton through the 2018 season. Just 27, Collaros is still in his prime and coming off a 2015 campaign that saw him set career highs in passing yards (3,376) yards and touchdowns (25) while completing over 70 per cent of his passes in 12 starts. When he tore his right ACL in the Sept. 19 game against Edmonton, he was the leading candidate to win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award.

He also has all the intangibles a team looks for in a quarterback: leadership, work ethic, humility. His teammates love him and he carries himself with a confidence that doesn’t stray into ego. He comes from a small Ohio town and has a blue collar work ethic Hamiltonians find familiar. And he says stuff like this:

“I’ve said it before: I love the city, I love the fans. I think we have a great core group of guys and we all feel like we have some unfinished business,” Collaros said Monday after his deal was announced. “This is where I wanted to be.”

All good so far, right? Well, here’s the downside: this contract is a risk for a franchise that now has a significant chunk of valuable cap space tied up in a player that – no matter how talented – hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Collaros has missed 13 games over the last two seasons (including playoffs) due to injury and will miss several more to start the 2016 campaign. And while his knee rehab appears to be on track, there’s no way to know for sure if he’ll be the same dual-threat player he was before the injury.

According to TSN’s Matt Scianitti, Collaros’ contract is worth a total of $1.5 million over three years and his base salary in 2017 will be $520,000 without bonuses. That would make him the highest-paid quarterback in the CFL, moving him past surefire Hall-of-Famers like Ricky Ray and Henry Burris as well as stars such as Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell.

Collaros says agent Dan Vertlieb has been negotiating with the Ticats’ brass for months and instead of playing out his option year and hitting the open market next February, Collaros took the big, fat, juicy bird in the hand.

“From a business standpoint, it was a no brainer. It made more sense than waiting,” Collaros said. “It was something that both sides wanted to get done. I think both are happy.”

At least for the moment. Collaros’ old deal paid him in the neighbourhood of $275,000 so the Ticats could find themselves having to make some tough personnel choices in order to make the math work. The CFL salary cap is set at $5.1 million in 2016, with increases of just $50,000 over the next two seasons: Collaros’ deal will represent a significant chunk of the Ticats’ resources and therefore limit what the team can pay other players.

That said, if Collaros can stay healthy and perform at his 2015 levels for the majority of his contract, the Ticats will simply be paying what an elite-level quarterback costs in a league where no position is more important and talent has never been so scarce. So let’s get back to the positive.

“I just want to thank the organization for having the faith in me, especially coming off the injury,” Collaros said. “I’ve been working every day but getting this signed is a weight off my shoulders and now I can just focus on football.”

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