Davis: Collaros a good get for Riders but only if he returns to form

Quarterback Zach Collaros got paid more last year than the combined salaries of the four quarterbacks on his new team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

A couple seasons ago that hefty contract looked like a reasonable investment by his former team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But major knee surgery and head injuries disrupted a promising career, leaving Collaros in 2017 winless as a starter and ultimately a backup who was also the CFL’s highest-paid player.

While it’s evident Collaros hasn’t been the same running, confident, cerebral gunslinger he used to be, the Roughriders believe he can regain his status among the league’s top pivots. Just not at his old price.

So upon acquiring Collaros, a 29-year-old with six years of CFL experience, the Roughriders began negotiations to whittle down his reported salary of $540,000, which includes a $200,000 bonus due Feb. 1. The Roughriders obtained Collaros from Hamilton for a second-round draft choice in 2018, the 10th overall pick which happens to be the selection they acquired a year ago when they shipped veteran quarterback Darian Durant to the Montreal Alouettes.

If Collaros returns to form, he certainly stabilizes a position that has been in flux since Chris Jones became Saskatchewan’s head coach, general manager and vice-president of football operations before the 2016 season.

When it became obvious Durant, who had led Saskatchewan to the 2013 Grey Cup under a different coaching staff, no longer fit the Roughriders’ plans or their financial structure, Jones dealt him away and signed another veteran, but cheaper quarterback in Kevin Glenn. Jones also lured former NFLer Vince Young out of retirement, but Young’s attempt at resurrecting his career in the CFL was an unmitigated disaster.

Jones acquired young QBs Brandon Bridge and Vernon Adams and recruited rookie Marquise Williams; with Glenn they accounted for $500,000 in salaries last season, Jones told the Roughriders’ website. A serviceable starter, Glenn got replaced frequently by Bridge as the season went along, but the quarterback-by-committee led the CFL with 35 touchdown passes last season and advanced as a crossover team to the East final.

Bridge signed a new contract two months before he was able to become a free agent. Glenn and Collaros have existing contracts. Roughriders assistant GM Jeremy O’Day told a media gathering Wednesday the Roughriders were happy with their group of quarterbacks, particularly with their acquisition of a “proven winner.”

Tutored by veteran Ricky Ray and coaching guru Scott Milanovich, Collaros was the backup quarterback in 2012 when the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup. Jones was Toronto’s defensive co-ordinator and the offensive line coach was Stephen McAdoo, Saskatchewan’s current offensive co-ordinator, so they know that Collaros is a hard-working, popular teammate. Collaros also led the Tiger-Cats into the 2014 Grey Cup, which they lost to the Calgary Stampeders.

Across the CFL it was believed the Roughriders were interested in acquiring James Franklin, a pending free agent whose rights were recently dealt from the Edmonton Eskimos to Toronto. Although acquiring Collaros doesn’t prevent the Roughriders from later pursuing Franklin, that scenario now seems unlikely. O’Day told reporters the quarterback pecking order will be determined by the coaching staff, who will make the decision on whether Collaros is progressing or still regressing.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.