Déjà Calvillo: Will Ticats watch another QB flourish elsewhere?

Tiger-Cat running backs Marcus Thomas (#33) and ‘Doc’ Marcus Holliday (#31) with quarterback Anthony Calvillo in 1997. Photo by: Ted Brellisford, The Hamilton Spectator. 

In 1997, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were an awful football team with a mostly terrible quarterback.

They finished the season 2-16 while the man behind centre — who was on the cover of the media guide that year — threw a paltry 12 touchdowns against 11 interceptions as the team allowed an astonishing 54 sacks.

Not surprisingly, he was allowed to leave as a free agent at the end of the season after three, mostly mediocre campaigns.

His name: Anthony Calvillo.

The rest, as they say, is history — with Calvillo making most of it.

Calvillo went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career with the Montreal Alouettes while becoming the all-time leader in passing yards in pro football. He also won three Grey Cup titles and four CFL Most Outstanding Player awards after leaving Hamilton for La Belle Province.

The worst thing about this rather ignominious piece of Ticats lore? The team appears on the verge of repeating it.

The 2017 Hamilton Tiger-Cats are an awful football team with a mostly terrible quarterback. They are 0-8 on the season while Zach Collaros has completed just 62.7 per cent of his passes for 1,743 yards with eight touchdowns (lowest among the league’s starters) and seven interceptions. The team has also given up 21 sacks and 77 pressures: Like Calvillo, there are lots of other factors contributing to his struggles.

Predictably, there are now questions about his future in Hamilton.

News emerged on Wednesday that the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Toronto Argonauts have inquired about trading for Collaros, given that he’s been demoted this week by new head coach June Jones in favour of Jeremiah Masoli.

Kent Austin, vice-president of football operations and former head coach, acknowledged there’s been interest in Collaros but says that’s different than shopping him.

“When you’re in the situation we’re in, it’s not unusual for people to come after your best players to see if there’s any interest in moving them. Zach’s an outstanding quarterback and we certainly understand the interest,” Austin said.

“I’m not going to say never to anything, I would say that’s highly unlikely. We’re going to evaluate every single position, everything we can to make our team better but he’s an outstanding quarterback and we’re not anxious to move someone of that level of talent.

“Everything is on the table but moving Zach is highly unlikely.”

But no matter what happens this season, it’s increasingly hard to see Collaros anywhere but Toronto next year.

Barring an extraordinary turn of events in the final 10 games of the season, the Tiger-Cats are unlikely to be interested in paying Collaros the more than $500,000 he’s owed on the final year of his deal in 2018.

Given his demotion and the team’s lack of success — not to mention his reportedly strained relationship with Austin — a request to renegotiate that deal is likely to be met with, at best, a polite “No thanks.”

Stuck between a rock filled with salary cap money and a quarterback who hasn’t played at an elite level for almost a year, the Ticats will be faced with little choice but to cut him loose.

Free to choose his own destination, expect Toronto to be at the top of a very short list.

He played in a Marc Trestman offence under former Argos head coach Scott Milanovich and he’s close with current Toronto receivers coach and former Ticat offensive co-ordinator, Tommy Condell.

On a personal level, his longtime girlfriend is a Toronto resident.

And the Argonauts have a need. They’ve seen what life looks like behind the aging and brittle Ricky Ray and it isn’t pretty.

Bringing in Collaros now gives them an instant insurance policy while signing him to a more cap-friendly deal in the off-season — while giving up exactly nothing — make even more sense.

Collaros was asked about the trade rumours and about the media fixation on his relationship with Condell.

“We had a good season in 2015, that could possibly be it. He’s a friend of mine and he’s a great football coach,” Collaros said. “I don’t want to be a distraction. To be quite frank, I don’t know much about it.”

Then, a little rocket aimed at Ticat brass.

“The only person I’ve talked to upstairs since the Ottawa game is (head coach) June (Jones),” he said.

Hamilton could be fine without Collaros, though with Masoli set to be a free agent next year, it would turn the quarterback situation into a giant question mark.

The 1998 Ticats brought in Danny McManus and won the Grey Cup in 1999. And Calvillo was 24 when he left while Collaros just turned 29.

But Calvillo went on to fuel almost 15 years of success in Montreal while Hamilton wandered in around in a largely loss-happy wilderness without a franchise quarterback.

Collaros is the closest they’ve been to a franchise guy in a long time and, if history is any judge, they seem all but determined to watch him flourish elsewhere.

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