Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Spurned Blue shift focus to aging Burris

Winnipeg wants veteran pivot after Ticats ink free agent Collaros

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All right, so now what?

With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers losing the race to sign former Toronto Argonauts quarterback Zach Collaros, who opted to sign with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Thursday, the immediate question was where does the Winnipeg Football Club go from here in its desperate quest to find a reliable starting QB for 2014?

The most-obvious candidate is Henry Burris, who the Tiger-Cats released at the same time as they announced they had signed Collaros to a three-year deal.

Chris Gittings, the agent for Burris, told the Free Press his client would be delighted to play in Winnipeg if an agreement can be reached.

"If you're asking would he be interested in going to Winnipeg, the answer is absolutely. Why not?" said Gittings. "It's a great city, the organization has put some wonderful people in place. (GM) Kyle Walters, (assistant GM's) Ted Goveia, Danny McManus -- these guys are bright guys and I think they're doing some really good things in Winnipeg. So that's a good start.

"Those are good coaches they hired, they've got a fantastic stadium -- there's just a lot to like about that situation."

The Bombers refused official comment, but sources continue to insist the club was not heartbroken about losing Collaros to Hamilton and Burris had coalesced over the winter into the consensus choice of the Bombers front office to lead the team in 2014.

'If you're asking would he be interested in going to Winnipeg, the answer is absolutely. Why not? It's a great city, the organization has put some wonderful people in place... there's just a lot to like about that situation'

-- Chris Gittings, agent for Henry Burris

The feeling in the Bombers organization is that Burris, who led the CFL in passing the last two seasons and has not missed a start in two years in Hamilton, provides Winnipeg the kind of immediate and proven chance to win that could not be said of Collaros, whose seven career CFL starts are a tiny sample of work.

Sources say the Bombers made a competitive -- but not extravagant -- offer to Collaros, who reportedly signed with the Ticats for something in the vicinity of $250,000 per season plus incentives. Sources also say that after submitting their offer to Collaros Wednesday, the Bombers never heard back and it appears all the subsequent negotiating went on between Collaros and the Ticats.

Part of the reason for that might have to do with the fact Collaros has deep roots in Pennsylvania and Ohio and wanted to remain close to family by continuing to play in southern Ontario. It's also a fact the reputation of the Bombers organization among CFL players is poor right now -- given all the recent turmoil on the field and off of it -- and that may also have played into the decision-making by Collaros.

Whatever the case, all of Winnipeg's attention is now focused on Burris, who officially became a free agent Thursday.

Gittings believes Winnipeg will not be the only team interested in acquiring Burris in the coming days.

"There's been a lot of media speculation as you say that Winnipeg will be the only major suitor, but I don't think that will be the case," said Gittings. "The question GMs in the CFL have to ask themselves is: Is Henry Burris better than our current starter? That's the real question.

"And if the answer they come up with is yes, I'm going to hear from them. And I think I can make a very good argument that he is better than a lot of quarterbacks in the CFL."

Sources said the Montreal Alouettes, who have the mostly untested Troy Smith and Tanner Marsh as their QBs heading into 2014, will at least kick the tires on Burris.

The expansion Ottawa Redblacks are also expected to express interest to see if they can get an upgrade on the QBs they selected in the expansion draft, Kevin Glenn and Thomas DeMarco.

And there are also reports out of Edmonton that new Eskimos head coach Chris Jones isn't yet entirely sold on the prolific -- but also wildly inconsistent -- Mike Reilly as his undisputed starter for 2014. Burris's family lives nearby in Calgary, which would also make an offer from Edmonton potentially attractive.

The other quarterback option on the table for the Bombers right now is Drew Willy, who the Saskatchewan Roughriders have soured on and are not expected to offer a contract extension in advance of free agency.

Sources say McManus is a big supporter of the Saskatchewan backup, believing him to be more physically gifted than Collaros and a more "pure" quarterback, even though Willy is mostly untested in his pro career.

Ideally, the Bombers would land both Burris and Willy, with the former serving as a mentor for the latter for the next couple seasons -- making for a potentially seamless transition once Burris retires, while at the same time giving Winnipeg a chance to win in the interim.

Carrying contracts for both Burris and Willy is debatable, although Gittings noted the CFL salary cap is expected to be increased for the coming season and it's possible some CFL teams might choose to use the extra space to upgrade their depth at QB.

As for Burris's advanced age, Gittings pointed to his continued durability most recently -- and lack of major injury over the course of his career -- as evidence his client is no average 38-year-old.

"If you're looking for a quarterback to play 10 years -- maybe (his age is an issue). Because I don't think even Henry thinks he's going to be a guy playing 10 years from now." said Gittings.

"But what I'd say is at 38 years old, he was one of the only quarterbacks last year to make it through the season. And he did it not just last season but the season before as well -- the entire season.

"He's playing at a very high level. He's very durable. His arm strength is as good as anyone in the league, if not the best. He can still run around...

"So age? Yeah, at some point you'd worry about it. But at this point, I don't think you evaluate him as a normal 38-year-old."

 

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2014 C3

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