Hamilton signs Zach Collaros, releases Henry Burris, starts QB chain reaction

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

The CFL's Battle of Ontario just got a little more interesting, as a quarterback has crossed the lines. According to both a Canadian Press report and a piece from Drew Edwards of The Hamilton Spectator, former Toronto Argonauts pivot Zach Collaros has signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Collaros did well in extended stints replacing Ricky Ray this past season and was set to become a free agent in February, but Toronto released him early to let him explore his options; now, he's signed with their biggest rival. Moreover, this signing likely means that Henry Burris is on his way out of Hamilton, and Matthew Scianitti of TSN reports that the Tiger-Cats have already released him. Burris had a tremendous season in 2013, topping the league with 4,925 passing yards, and he led the Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup appearance, but he was also set for free agency in February, and there had been rumblings that Hamilton wasn't willing to pay big for a 38-year-old quarterback. The Collaros move thus could set off a chain reaction of events across the league, depending on where Burris winds up.

The most likely landing spot for Burris would appear to be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who look like the team most in need of a proven quarterback. None of Winnipeg's younger guys have panned out yet, and while Burris might not have that many years left, he's arguably one of the league's best quarterbacks ever. Furthermore, the Bombers appear eager to turn things around quickly, and Burris would give them an excellent shot at that. They would still need to develop a younger guy as well, but given that they don't seem to have any capable starters at the moment, a move for Burris either in free agency or sooner if Hamilton cuts him before then could make a lot of sense. The Ottawa Redblacks could also take a look, but they have Kevin Glenn and Thomas DeMarco already, and while neither's necessarily a great option right now, that doesn't leave much room for Burris. Thus, Winnipeg's the most probable landing spot for him. It isn't the only one, though.

We saw last year just how important it can be to have at least two capable quarterbacks. Injuries ravaged the CFL's pivots in 2013, with only Burris and Edmonton's Mike Reilly playing in every one of their team's games (and Reilly played hurt, and Burris was often subbed out for certain packages featuring Dan LeFevour and Jeremiah Masoli). Colleague Ian Denomme took a look at the stats and found that 16 different CFL quarterbacks had at least 100 pass attempts last year, pretty remarkable in an eight-team league. Most of that was thanks to injuries, and those injuries demonstrated the differences in quarterback depth. Calgary used three separate starting quarterbacks (season-0pening-starter Drew Tate, backup Glenn, and third-stringer Bo Levi Mitchell) thanks to injury, but still posted a league-best 14-4 record, while none of the three Winnipeg quarterbacks with over 100 attempts (Buck Pierce, Justin Goltz and Max Hall) did particularly well, and the Bombers wound up with a league-worst 3-15 mark.

Thus, an experienced and proven player like Burris who's still performing at a high level could help even those teams that already have starters in place. That's less probable, as Burris probably wants a starting job, and Winnipeg or perhaps Ottawa are most likely the only spots where he can get one. If those teams pass on him and he's willing to start the year as a backup, though, almost any CFL team could provide a somewhat viable landing spot for him.

An interesting side angle to ponder is if the Tiger-Cats would have moved on from Burris if they'd won the Grey Cup instead of losing it. It's awfully tough to ditch the quarterback who just won a championship for you, so a different result in that one-game sample size might had led to a very different offseason. However, it's notable that the last time Tiger-Cats' head coach/general manager Kent Austin won a Grey Cup (in 2007 as Saskatchewan's head coach), the Grey Cup-winning quarterback (Kerry Joseph) was traded in the ensuing offseason. That move was made by general manager Eric Tillman, and Austin had already left for the NCAA, but that move worked out quite nicely for the team that pulled the trigger: Joseph (who's retiring this week) struggled in Toronto, while the Riders gained some good players (Glenn January, Ronald Flemons and a first-round pick they used on Keith Shologan) and were able to clear the way for Darian Durant. Would Austin still have made this move if he'd won the Grey Cup, hoping it worked out the way it did for the Riders? We'll never know, but it's a notable hypothetical to consider.

Meanwhile, what about Collaros? Well, he played reasonably well in 2013, throwing for 2,316 yards, and he edged Burris in completion percentage (66.2 per cent to 65.8 per cent) and TD/INT (14/6 versus 24/19), but his success still comes from a relatively small sample size. His success also came in an exceptionally well-crafted passing offence with plenty of weapons, as Ray put up record-breaking numbers when he was healthy. Things could work out well for Collaros in Hamilton, as the Tiger-Cats return a solid core and they have plenty of impressive receivers, but we'll see how well he adapts to their system and if he's able to maintain his 2013 form. Replacing the 38-year-old Burris with the 25-year-old Collaros (or the 26-year-old LeFevour, if he beats out Collaros in camp)  is probably a solid move for the future, but it does carry risk, and it might be harder for Hamilton to repeat last year's success with a new quarterback. We'll see how it plays out for them.