By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
After helping the Bombers capture their first Grey Cup since 1990 with a 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last November, Collaros quickly turned his sights on inking a new deal rather than becoming a free agent next month.
“From the moment the season ended, my wife and I talking about it, it’s kind of a no-brainer if they want us to come back there,” Collaros told reporters Tuesday, a day after the team announced he’d signed a two-year contract extension.
Winnipeg acquired Collaros from Toronto on Oct. 9, just prior to the 2019 CFL trade deadline. The Bombers made the trade because starting quarterback Matt Nichols injured a shoulder in August that ended up requiring season-ending surgery. Sophomore pivot Chris Streveler had moved to the No. 1 position.
Collaros started four games with Winnipeg, going 4-0 from the last game of the regular season through to the Grey Cup. He finished 17-of-23 passing for 170 yards in guiding the Bombers past the Tiger-Cats in the championship game in Calgary.
Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said Tuesday it was “gut-wrenching” when the decision was made to try to sign Collaros over Nichols.
He said he talked to Nichols on the phone Monday night and agreed to grant the pending free agent’s request to be released right away.
“I had a good conversation with Matt last night and we’re going to release him this morning so that he can get a jump-start on free agency and he wants to find a spot where he can be the starter,” Walters said.
Nichols, 32, had been with the Bombers since 2015. Walters called him “a great teammate, great friend to many in this organization,” but staff viewed the 31-year-old Collaros as having more upside.
“Ultimately, down the stretch there with the way Zach played at that level, getting us over the hump, winning a Grey Cup, I believe earned him the right to first right of refusal in regards to the offer,” Walters said.
Streveler and Collaros were a formidable duo in the playoffs when the Bombers defeated both the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders on the road. Streveler rushed for 30 yards in the Grey Cup and completed all three passes he made for 39 yards with one touchdown.
Also a pending free agent, Streveler is trying to connect with an NFL club.
“His NFL workouts are going pretty well from what I understand and he is dialled in on those,” Walters said.
The Bombers have quarterback Sean McGuire, who’s going into his second season, under contract.
Collaros, who said his wife is expecting their first child in mid-April, described his time with the Bombers last season as a new chapter in his playing career.
“From a football standpoint, being in this building last year was for me kind of re-born again, kind of thing,” he said. “Having fun at work again.”
The eight-year veteran had appeared in just one game in 2019 before joining the Bombers. He suffered a concussion in the regular-season opener for Saskatchewan on the team’s first drive of the game. The Roughriders then traded him to Toronto in late July.
With a history of head injuries, Collaros underwent a battery of tests by experts and was medically cleared to play when Winnipeg acquired the Ohio native, who lives in Aurora, Ont.
Collaros said he’s aware people will always have questions about his health, “and rightfully so,” and he appreciates that.
“Last year, I just wanted to prove I could still play. That’s it, you know?” he said. “As a football player, this is my job and it’s what I’ve done my whole life and you just want to go out there and play.
“So that’s all I kind of want to do, and if it proved to strangers that I’m still healthy then that’s cool.”
Walters said Collaros’s health was part of the staff’s discussions.
“With the way we run the ball more than anybody in the league and our offensive line, I think we limit the number of throws that the quarterback takes, which would end up limiting the number of potential hits,” Walters said.
“We can only go by what the doctors report, and we were comfortable with the trade coming in. And after the season, even more comfortable with his durability and his health.”