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Bombers bring back Zach

Cup-winning QB's two-year deal team's biggest news in busy off-season

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/1/2020 (194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers crossed off a sizable item on their offseason to-do list, announcing Monday quarterback Zach Collaros has signed a two-year contract that will keep him in blue and gold through the 2021 season.

According to sources, Collaros was handed a contract that will pay the 31-year-old native of Steubenville, Ohio, slightly less than $500,000 per season, a figure that has become the going rate for an experienced CFL starter, not to mention a recent champion.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed quarterback Zach Collaros, left, after when they decided Chris Streveler, right, was unable to prove himself as a starter.

NATHAN DENETTE THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed quarterback Zach Collaros, left, after when they decided Chris Streveler, right, was unable to prove himself as a starter.

The Bombers acquired Collaros in a trade with the Toronto Argonauts last October as a reliable backup plan, after Nichols went down with a serious shoulder injury and backup Chris Streveler was unable to prove himself in the No. 1 spot. The plan worked, as Collaros took over the offence and led the Bombers to four straight victories, including three road playoff games. He ended his run with a 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to clinch the club's first Grey Cup in 29 years.

Indeed, Collaros penned one of the league's more incredible stories in 2019.

He started the season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, only to suffer a head injury on the third play of the game. He was ruled out for months with a concussion and was subsequently traded to Toronto at the end of July. Collaros had just started to do on-field workouts when the Argonauts traded him to the Bombers, acquiring Winnipeg's third-round selection in 2020 (the Bombers also received Toronto's fifth-round pick the same year).

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019-2020 off-season tracker

Nov. 24 – the Bombers defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 in the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, ending a championship drought at 29 years.

Nov. 24 – the Bombers defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 in the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, ending a championship drought at 29 years.

Nov. 26 – Thousands of people fill the streets to watch the Bombers Grey Cup parade, which began at Hargrave Street and Portage Ave, and wrapped up at The Forks.

Dec. 3 – Bombers sign three players to future contracts, including American receivers Devin Lucien and ArDarius Stewart and American running back James Williams.

Dec. 5 – Bombers release Canadian defensive end Jonathan Kongbo in order for him to pursue NFL interests.

Dec. 9 – Bombers re-sign American defensive back Mercy Maston to a one-year contract extension.

Dec. 10 – Bombers reach a one-year extension with veteran Canadian offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld.

Dec. 13 – General manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea are each given three-year extensions. Walters, who had a year remaining on his current deal, is now signed through the 2023 season, while O’Shea is locked up through 2022.

Dec. 14 – Bombers sign veteran American offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick to a one-year extension.

Dec. 15 – Bombers sign Canadian receiver Drew Wolitarsky to a two-year extension.

Dec. 16 – The 2020 CFL schedule is released. The Bombers will open the new campaign on the road in a Grey Cup rematch in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats June 13.

Dec. 27 – The Bombers release all-star American defensive back Winston Rose to pursue NFL interests. Rose signed a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals Dec. 31.

Dec. 27 – Bombers re-sign Canadian running back Johnny Augustine to a two-year extension.

Jan. 1 – Bombers release American defensive back Marcus Sayles to pursue NFL interests. Sayles signed with the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 3.

Jan. 6 – The Bombers sign five players, including American receivers Travis Rudolph and Kayaune Ross; American defensive backs Malik Boynton and Clifton Duck; and American linebacker Otha Peters.

Jan. 20 – Bombers sign all-star left tackle Stanley Bryant to a one-year contract extension.

Jan. 20 – Bombers sign American defensive end Justin Alexandre and American linebacker Dylan Donahue.

Jan. 20 – Bombers re-sign American defensive back Nick Taylor, while also adding American defensive end Alex McCalister.

Jan. 21 – Bombers announce offensive coaching staff for the 2020 season, highlighted by the promotion of Buck Pierce from quarterback’s coach to offensive co-ordinator. Other moves include Kevin Bourgoin moving from running backs coach to receivers coach, and the hiring of Pete Costanza, who had spent the previous 12 years with the Calgary Stampeders, to take over the running backs. Marty Costello will remain as the offensive line coach.

Jan. 22 – Bombers add three players, signing American defensive ends David Kenney and Meffy Koloamatangi and American running back Jordan Robinson to their roster.

Jan. 23 – Just one day after his signing, the Bombers trade Robinson to the Edmonton Eskimos for the rights to an undisclosed negotiation list player.

Jan. 23 – Bombers re-sign American receiver/returner Charles Nelson to a two-year extension.

Jan. 27 – Bombers sign quarterback Zach Collaros to a two-year contract.

Collaros made his first start with the Bombers in the team's final regular-season game, where he led Winnipeg to a fourth-quarter comeback victory, 29-28, over the visiting Calgary Stampeders. He then returned to Calgary two weeks later to face the Stampeders in the West semifinal, where Collaros won again, riding a hot Bombers defence to a convincing 35-14 triumph.

Collaros was never overly dominant in the four games he played in a Bombers sweater — his game-high in passing yards was 267, which came in a nail-biting victory over the Roughriders in the West final — but he proved an ability to make big plays at key moments, while also protecting the ball. Collaros threw for a modest four touchdowns in those four games (none of which came in the Grey Cup) but committed just one interception.

In total, Collaros finished the 2019 season 67-for-97 passing (69 per cent), for 851 yards, four touchdowns and the lone pick. It wasn't until after Christmas that the Bombers’ focus turned to signing Collaros, who by then had indicated an interest to remain in Winnipeg.

Since Collaros and Walters won't be made available to media until Tuesday, let's use this opportunity to take a deeper look at the offseason: what the Bombers have done, what they're doing now and what still lies ahead.

What they’ve done…

Predictably, a seemingly never-ending party erupted shortly after the Grey Cup victory (has anyone seen the shirtless bandit known as Chris Streveler?), with celebrations delaying some of the usual end-of-season business. But as the dust began to settle, Winnipeg has been among the more active teams the last couple of months.

Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler celebrates with the Grey Cup in downtown Winnipeg.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler celebrates with the Grey Cup in downtown Winnipeg.

Over the span of just a week in mid-December, the Bombers locked up a number of key pieces from 2019. New deals were handed out to offensive linemen Patrick Neufeld and Jermarcus Hardrick, defensive back Mercy Maston and receiver Drew Wolitarsky.

The biggest splash, however, came when team president and CEO Wade Miller announced he had tacked on three more years for Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea. Walters, unlike O’Shea, still has another year left on his current deal, meaning his new commitment will last through the 2023 season. O’Shea, who many thought might leave Winnipeg, will continue to cash cheques until the end of the 2022 campaign.

The Blue Bombers signed head coach Mike O’Shea, right, and general manager Kyle Walters to three year extensions in December.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Blue Bombers signed head coach Mike O’Shea, right, and general manager Kyle Walters to three year extensions in December.

What followed in the coming weeks were more contracts. The most important was a one-year extension to left tackle Stanley Bryant, who, like all of his teammates that have recently signed, was free to hit the open market in a few weeks. Versatile running back Johnny Augustine, defensive back Nick Taylor and receiver/returner Charles Nelson — along with nearly a dozen other, lesser-known players – were also given deals.

One of the team’s worst kept secrets was finally made public a week ago. Indeed, the only thing that was surprising about the promotion of Buck Pierce from quarterbacks coach to offensive co-ordinator was just how long it took to announce. Pierce was always viewed to be next in line after the departure of Paul LaPolice, who has officially signed on as the Ottawa Redblacks new head coach, inking a three-year deal on Dec. 7.

The only outside hire on the offensive coaching staff was Pete Costanza, who has spent the previous 12 years with the Calgary Stampeders. Costanza replaces Kevin Bourgoin as the running backs coach, with Bourgoin moving over to receiver’s coach — a position that was left void with the departure of LaPolice. Offensive line coach Marty Costello is back for a fifth season.

What they’re doing…

Much of the last month for the Bombers has been dedicated to securing a quarterback or, in this case, inking Collaros to a new deal. By finally signing Collaros to a contract, Walters and his staff can move onto other pressing issues.

What's likely to be the first thing Walters does is to continue to look at his roster and determine who he wants to — or, can afford to — keep from last year’s championship team. A number of notable names remain on the pending free-agent list, including defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Craig Roh, defensive tackle Drake Nevis, wide receiver Darvin Adams, centre Michael Couture and Streveler.

Willie Jefferson is currently exploring his options south of the border in the NFL.

TODD KOROL / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Willie Jefferson is currently exploring his options south of the border in the NFL.

The biggest names on this list are Streveler and Jefferson, both of whom are coming off stellar seasons and were impact players in the postseason. Streveler improved on his role as a dual threat pivot, while Jefferson was named defensive player of the year. Each has garnered a lot of attention from the NFL, but neither has signed a contract.

Per sources, only Streveler has been offered a serious contract and is currently mulling over his options with the intent of inking a deal. Whether Jefferson does sign an NFL contract or, if he doesn’t, wants to return to Winnipeg remains to be seen. The Bombers like what they have in backup quarterback Sean McGuire and though there would certainly be a drop off, Roh could help fill the hole left by Jefferson.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre, Michael Couture.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre, Michael Couture.

Some questioned prior to the 2019 season whether Couture was good enough to replace Matthias Goossen as the starting centre. Couture ultimately proved his critics wrong, and the Bombers didn’t miss a step despite constantly rotating inexperienced guards around him for much of the first half of the schedule. But Couture wasn’t able to make it to the finish line, suffering a left leg injury ahead of the playoffs and his replacement, Cody Speller, did an admirable job in relief.

Then there’s finalizing the defensive staff, which should be announced soon. Defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall will be back for another season, and it’s to be understood much of his staff will be back, too. The notable exception is Glen Young.

Young spent four seasons with the Bombers, most recently in a dual role as the team’s linebackers and defensive line coach. With Hall still on board, Young has accepted an offer to become the Argonaut’s DC. It’s a well-deserved promotion for Young, who played a pivotal role in building an impressive Bombers defensive group in 2019.

What lies ahead…

The coming months will be spent adding players through free agency and the two drafts – the national draft on Apr. 30, and the global draft, which happens two weeks earlier on April 16.

It’s curious to know what kind of effect the Bombers Grey Cup run will have in free agency. Will the success have more players wanting to sign with Winnipeg? Will some be willing to take less money? All interesting questions, and surely something Walters is pondering as well.

Either way, the Bombers will most likely make a decent splash. Just consider: the Bombers had the most players returning in 2019 but still managed to sign Jefferson, arguably one of the biggest fish in the free-market sea outside of quarterbacks.

CFL 2020 KEY DATES

FEB. 2-9 – Pending Free Agent Negotiation Window

Beginning at 11 a.m. CT on February 2, pending free agents can communicate with any CFL club. Teams can make formal offers to players until February 9 at 11 a.m. CT.

FEB. 2-9 – Pending Free Agent Negotiation Window

Beginning at 11 a.m. CT on February 2, pending free agents can communicate with any CFL club. Teams can make formal offers to players until February 9 at 11 a.m. CT.

FEBRUARY 11 – Free agency opens. Signing period begins at 11 a.m. CT.

Mar. 26-28 – CFL Combine in Toronto

Apr. 16 – CFL Global Draft (Bombers select 9th)

Apr. 30 – CFL National Draft

May 13 – Rookie Camps open

May 16 – CFL rosters must be reduced to 85 by 10:59 p.m. CT

May 17 – Training camps open

May 19 – CFL rosters must be reduced to 75 by 10:59 p.m. CT

May 24 – Preseason begins

June 6 – Training camp cuts must be completed by 9 p.m. CT

June 11-13 – CFL regular season kickoff

Taking a look at the Bombers roster, a few areas stick out. The first is on defence, particularly in the secondary (and defensive end, should Jefferson not return). Both boundary corner Winston Rose (Cincinnati Bengals) and boundary halfback Marcus Sayles (Minnesota Vikings) have signed NFL deals and both are expected to stick with their respective teams until at least September, when the NFL makes its final cuts. And that’s assuming either of them is released and then immediately returns to the CFL.

The other position is at receiver. The Bombers have made strides in this area in recent years, including unearthing the likes of Kenny Lawler and Rasheed Bailey, both of whom will be back in 2020. If they can’t sign Darvin Adams – or even if they can – it’s time the Bombers go after a deep threat receiver that has had success in the CFL. This was a target last year, but despite fair offers to Greg Ellingson and Derel Walker, wound up missing out on both.

Another condition of the Collaros trade — one that, back when the trade was made on Oct. 9, seemed improbable — stated that if the Bombers were to re-sign Collaros then they would also forfeit their first-round pick. Therefore, the Argonauts will now receive the ninth overall selection in 2020 to go with their own first-round selection (2nd overall).

In other words, the Bombers are currently without a first-round pick this year.

They remain in good position on the O-line, especially if they can bring back Couture, and have overall a solid group of Canadians. That should alleviate some pressure at the draft, at least when it comes to making the "right" pick in the first round, but that’s working on the assumption the Bombers won’t try to get back into the early mix. Time will only tell, of course, but discovering talent in the later rounds has become a strength for this group so it’s hard to imagine a scouting staff putting its collective feet up anytime soon.

It’s unclear where exactly the Bombers stand when it comes to scouting for the league’s new designated "Global" players. Compared to the other nine CFL teams, Winnipeg hit a home run on acquiring German linebacker Thiadric Hansen last year.

Hansen proved to be a quality player for Winnipeg, which was, at least in part, due to Winnipeg actually giving him in notable playing time. There were other teams, including the Redblacks, the CFL’s worst club in 2019, who cared little about playing or seemingly even developing their global players despite being required to have one of the active roster. In 2020, a rule in the new CBA states teams must have two global players on its active roster, making their development even more important.

The CFL, for its part, has expanded the player pool and hired Greg Quick as the CFL’s director of global scouting. The league has already hosted combines this month in Finland, Sweden, France, Italy, England and Germany and by the middle of March will have also added Japan, Denmark and Mexico to the list. The combines are being run to identify players that will be added to the CFL’s official combine in late March.

Still, Walters and the Bombers scouts will have to do their own player reports, which have only added to an already full plate. Luckily, Hansen remains under contract, but time will surely be dedicated to finding another quality global player worthy of roster spot.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Monday, January 27, 2020 at 1:51 PM CST: fixes typos

2:04 PM: story edit

6:36 PM: Adds photos

7:03 PM: Edits photos

8:20 PM: Fixes typo.

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