By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — On-field success wasn’t the only reason Zach Collaros signed a three-year contract extension with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
After the team announced the signing Tuesday, the 34-year-old quarterback told reporters the strong bond he’s formed with staff and teammates played a big role in his decision to ink a deal through the 2025 CFL season.
“Blessed. Lucky. Very fortunate. However you want to coin that,” Collaros said of how he feels about being with the team.
“Every time I see (Bombers president and chief executive officer) Wade (Miller), I shake his hand and give him a hug and thank him for bringing me in and allowing me to be part of this.”
Collaros has thrown a career-high 4,115 yards and a league-high 35 touchdown passes this season. He’s amassed a 31-4 record in his two-plus years as the team’s starter, including going 14-2 this season.
Winnipeg (14-3) is currently on a bye week and wraps up the regular season Oct. 28 at home against the B.C. Lions. The Bombers have already clinched first place in the West Division and will host the division final on Nov. 13.
“I love the environment. I love the city, community,” Collaros said. “But, again, this organization — from Wade on through (head coach Mike O’Shea) and the coaches and then just the guys in the locker room — some of these guys have become best friends to me.
“These guys have the same mentality, they want to be here and try to continue on in our success. Obviously, looking at the future we have a lot of important things ahead of us here in the next couple weeks, but just happy to get it done and to have the opportunity to be around these people for a longer period of time.”
Collaros, who could have become a free agent in February, said changes to the league’s collective bargaining agreement set the stage for a multi-year deal. Half the salary in the final year of his contract is now guaranteed.
It was widely reported he was paid $550,000 this season, his 10th in the league.
Bombers general manager Kyle Walters told reporters the reigning CFL most outstanding player got a raise and he’s “a pretty good football player and we paid accordingly.”
“He’s a winner and he’s a leader and we just want him here. It’s as simple as that,” Walters said. “We’re lucky that it worked out the way it did for us, and happy to have him locked in.”
Collaros has had a huge impact on the franchise since the Bombers acquired the Steubenville, Ohio, native in a trade-deadline deal with the Toronto Argonauts in October 2019.
Winnipeg ended a 28-season Grey Cup drought by defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 2019 title game. The 2020 season was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Bombers returned to form last year.
The club won the Grey Cup for a second straight season after a 33-25 overtime victory against the Ticats at Tim Hortons Field. Collaros was named most valuable player and also won his first most outstanding player award.
Bombers offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardwick was working out at IG Field Tuesday and spoke to a few reporters after the Collaros press conference.
“I think it’s huge for the city. I think it’s huge for the organization,” Hardrick said.
“Zach’s one of the best players I’ve ever been around. Man, this is a big one. Zach’s one of the best players in the league, best leaders in the league. For Winnipeg to keep him for three more years, it just shows the commitment to winning and Zach wants to be here, also.”
What the eight-year veteran also appreciates is the type of person Collaros is with everyone around him.
“He fits in. Like a thumb,” Hardrick said. “He’s never too big for the crowd, or the spot’s never too big.
“He just wants to hang out, just wants to feel like one of the guys. He does a great job of that. Doesn’t over-try it. Zach is just himself and it’s easy to be around, easy to have fun around.”
Collaros, a father of two daughters aged two-and-half years and 11 months, said it’s been difficult at times for his wife, Nicole, to follow him from their off-season Toronto home but she backed his decision.
“I’ve lived this crazy life of travelling around pretty much this entire adult life and it’s still a little new for her,” he said.
“It’s her trusting in me and packing the kids up and being away from grandparents isn’t easy, but she loves the community, she loves the team, she loves the wives and everybody here, so it’s been good.”