It took until the final moments ahead of Wednesday’s Canadian Football League trade deadline, but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers got what they were looking for.
The Bombers acquired quarterback Zach Collaros and a 2020 fifth-round selection from the Toronto Argonauts in exchange for a third-round pick the same year. If Collaros, whose contract expires at the end of the 2019 season, signs an extension with Winnipeg, the Bombers would have to give up an additional first-rounder in 2020.
"We've been looking for a veteran quarterback for quite a while. We'd reached out to four guys with CFL experience to see about their interest coming back, but none of them were," Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said in a phone conference shortly after the trade was finalized. "We'd been looking for a veteran quarterback and just hadn't had much success in convincing someone to come here."
Walters first started the search after the Bombers' No. 1 pivot, Matt Nichols, suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder late into a Week 10 win over the B.C. Lions (Nichols has since had surgery and has been shut down for the year). The Bombers GM reached out to Kevin Glenn and Drew Willy, two former Bombers who have since left the CFL, as well as longtime Lion Travis Lulay.
None of these options worked, either due to a lack of dollars or lack of interest, as the Bombers were looking for mainly a back-up plan to Chris Streveler.
Collaros was always on his radar, Walters said, and he reached out about acquiring his services at the same time he was talking to other quarterbacks. But it wasn’t until Jim Popp was fired as Argonauts GM Tuesday that the door to trading for Collaros propped open. Popp had wanted to sign Collaros to an extension, according to reports, but couldn’t get it done before he was given his walking papers.
"When I talked to Jim about it, there was really no interest from Jim to move Zach," Walters said. "With what happened over there the last few days, I figured I'd revisit with the new regime, and things were able to get done."
With Popp out, the Bombers got in contact with John Murphy, who had been promoted to Argonauts’ vice-president of player personnel. A deal was discussed, then the two sides parted and the Bombers were left waiting to hear back. The Argonauts had a meeting early in the afternoon, which they told the Bombers about, but as the clock ticked closer to the 4 p.m. CT deadline, there was some concern the deal might fall through.
Just before time expired, around 3:45 p.m., the Bombers received a call back from Murphy saying he would move forward with the trade. Because it was so close to the deadline, the CFL had to intervene to ensure it was approved.
In an interview with the Free Press last week, Walters lamented a stingy trade market, with the asking price for a quarterback — veteran or otherwise — too steep to pay. He said Collaros wasn’t part of those deals, adding he was happy with what he gave up to acquire the 31-year-old pivot.
"Once Zach became available we revisited and I thought it is what it is. You decide and it happened so quickly, so you just have to make a quick decision and decide were going to do this or we’re not. But I think dropping whatever it will work out to be… for him to come in and see what happens was worth the risk," Walters said.
He added: "We wouldn’t have made a trade for another quarterback. There were zero talks with any other team. There weren’t a lot of talks at all today."
Streveler remains the Bombers' No. 1 option at quarterback for now, and will likely get the final three games to prove worthy of attempting to lead the Bombers to their first Grey Cup title in 29 years. Streveler is 2-4 in six starts since taking over for Nichols, but has lost his last three. He’s shown flashes of brilliance but has been mostly inconsistent, particularly in the passing game.
With Collaros, the Bombers get an experienced quarterback and a quality insurance plan for Streveler. Collaros has played in 73 games over eight seasons in the CFL, passing for 16,758 yards and 92 touchdowns along wth 51 interceptions.
Walters stayed quiet about his immediate plans for Collaros and whether he would be groomed to start over Streveler. Right now, it’s to get him up to speed with his new teammates and playbook.
"It's depth and competition. We'll let him take a few snaps. You'd like to think everybody on that practice field is competing with each other every day, from the new guys on expanded practice roster to regular practice roster guys to the backups," Walters said. "Everybody here is wanting to push the guy in front of them to start. It's up to the coaching staff to see who fits in where."
There is some risk that comes with Collaros, who has suffered a string of concussions in recent years that has derailed his on-field effectiveness.
Playing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders last season, he missed four games with a head injury, plus the West Division semifinal against the Bombers. He finished the year with 2,999 passing yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while posting a 10-4 record.
When he returned with the Roughriders this year, he took a major blow to the head from Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence and was placed on the team’s six-game injured list with a concussion. Toronto traded for him midseason, though Collaros never took a snap with the club.
Walters said the Bombers' medical staff did its due diligence on Collaros and the reports were positive. Regarding Collaros’s future in Winnipeg, the Bombers GM preferred to let things develop further before making any claims.
"That’s a long way off. Obviously short term, we brought him in as a veteran presence right now," said Walters. "We’re going to get through the last three regular-season games and the goal is to make a run in the playoffs and win the Grey Cup. And then we’ll take a deep breath and evaluate everybody from our roster and who fits and who doesn’t."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.