Every day that passes is another day closer to Free Agency.
That might sound like the most obvious statement on the planet, after all, time is a linear thing, but time working against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Every day that goes by is one more day closer to star quarterback Zach Collaros being a free agent, and while there’s no reason to panic yet, it’s certainly in the back of everyone’s mind.
As Justin Dunk of 3DownNation wrote earlier this week, Collaros holds all the cards in the negotiations with the Bombers. After signing a fleet of their own free agents including Jackson Jeffcoat, Willie Jefferson, and Patrick Neufeld to relatively large contracts, paying Collaros his absolute market value could be a massive challenge should they hope to keep more of their pending free agents.
No matter how team-friendly those contracts may have been, they could hamper their chances if Collaros decides to chase the dollars that could be out there. Per that same report by Dunk, he could command “an average of $700,000 annually.” Even if that number is slightly high, it’s still a massive bump in pay from his 2021 salary of $424,285.71.
Yes, there is still time for the Bombers and Collaros to come to an agreement and live happily ever after, but what if that doesn’t happen? It’s coming to the point where they need to have a backup plan, but what could that look like?
Of the players that are potentially available when Free Agency opens, McLeod Bethel-Thompson might be the most similar to Collaros in terms of playstyle. With the Argonauts supposedly being one of the teams interested in bringing Collaros into the fold, it makes sense that Bethel-Thompson could be available this offseason.
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He might not have the big flashy arm, the elite scrambling ability, or the winning history that some other quarterbacks have, but no matter how many times the Argonauts have tried to replace him in the past, he finds a way to stick around and win back his starting job. He hasn’t been able to get the job done in Toronto when it comes to winning a Grey Cup, but he had some impressive moments that could make him an option should Collaros decide to move on.
One of the important angles to keep in mind if the Bombers have to go looking for a new quarterback is their offensive line. They were by far the league’s best unit in 2021, and even though Collaros might not be the most talented quarterback in the league, he was the most effective. That is in large part credit to the elite offensive line in front of him that gave him ample time and space to find an open receiver downfield or take off and run the ball himself.
Bethel-Thompson has had his moments, but behind the Bombers’ offensive line, he could take his game to another level. He’s a competent quarterback that can hit the open receiver and take off running when need be. He may not be on the same level as Collaros, but in the right circumstances with the right coaching and weapons, he could be the perfect replacement. The price tag will certainly be substantially lower than Collaros as well, so they would likely be able to bring back even more of their pending free agents.
Trevor Harris‘ name will always come up in conversations like this because everyone knows some of the impressive things he is capable of. Even in a season as dreadful as 2021 was for him, he turned in some performances that turned a lot of heads. In week five when the Elks headed to Calgary to take on the Stampeders, Harris was earth-shattering, throwing for 398 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Outside of that game, Harris’ season was a complete disaster. He was shipped out of Edmonton after two years of coming nowhere close to the ultimate goal and couldn’t lead the Montreal Alouettes to any playoff success. Of course, this hasn’t been entirely his fault, but over the past two seasons, his play hasn’t been at the level needed of a Grey Cup-winning quarterback.
Harris is more of a prototypical pocket passer when compared to Collaros or Bethel-Thompson, but that could work out if the offensive line play continues to be as dominant as it was in 2021. Where Harris has always fallen short has been consistency. He tends to have some great games, but he has some games that are equally as bad.
With the Bombers, maybe he would be able to figure things out, but it’s more likely that you would have to take the good with the bad. At the age of 35, Harris is a known commodity, but with a strong enough supporting cast, he could be a quarterback that wins a Grey Cup. Right now, it feels like his career is on life support, something that is very familiar in Winnipeg after they resurrected Collaros’ career.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way as soon as possible. If Jeremiah Masoli remains unvaccinated, he is unlikely to be in the CFL at all, let alone being a starting quarterback on the back-to-back Grey Cup champions. That being said, if he does decide to take the jab this offseason, he would be an attractive option for the blue and gold.
It wasn’t the perfect season for Masoli in 2021. He struggled at times and was eventually yanked in the East Final in favour of Dane Evans. Despite that, he had his moments and was seemingly on a roll as the regular season rounded out, leading the Tiger-Cats to an 8-6 record and second place in the East Division.
Masoli threw for 2,445 yards with 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and a quarterback efficiency rating of 100.6. He was forced back into action in the Grey Cup when Evans was injured, but before that happened, Hamilton’s offence was stagnant. They couldn’t get the ball downfield, and without some kind of change, they wouldn’t stand much of a chance to beat the Blue Bombers themselves.
Again, unless Masoli is vaccinated before the start of the season, this option doesn’t really exist. However, he proved in 2021 that there is still quality football left in him even though he isn’t a the top of his game anymore. Masoli has a much different play style than what the Blue Bombers have now, however. If they decided to go this route, they might have to rethink some of their plays.
On this list, every other play is a pending free agent, but Nick Arbuckle has re-signed with the Edmonton Elks. That being said, his future isn’t certain in Edmonton, especially considering they continue to sign quarterbacks. In just three seasons in the league, he has been on four teams, the Calgary Stampeders, Ottawa Redblacks, Toronto Argonauts, and the Edmonton Elks. He would have to come via trade, but if there is a belief that he is what the Redblacks and Argos thought he was before the start of the 2021 season, he is more than worth the price they would have to pay.
Arbuckle was given a pretty pay increase with his new deal. He will earn $340,000 with a $100,000 signing bonus. Relative to what Collaros should earn this offseason, this contract is relatively cheap. It would allow them to have some flexibility and bring back some of their key offensive pieces, but there’s no guarantee that Arbuckle will ever live up to his potential. If he can’t, the Bombers would be in deep waters as they try to win their third consecutive Grey Cup.
Being unable to live up to those expectations is the exact reason that he found himself in Edmonton, to begin with. With the Argos in 2021, Arbuckle threw for just 1,158 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions. He had a couple of good games including a week three win over the Blue Bombers, but it was clear that he needed some more work before he was starting calibre.
At this point, no one should consider Arbuckle’s career over by any stretch. There was a reason he was regarded as the next big quarterbacking prospect around the league, and there’s still plenty of time for him to reach those expectations. We saw how good he can be when there’s a good team around him in Calgary, so if all else fails, they could have a decent chance with Arbuckle under centre.
No Better Option Than Collaros
Of the available players, no one is a better fit for the Blue Bombers than Collaros. They have proven that they can win with him, and if the money wasn’t an issue right now, the contract would have been done long ago. There’s a very real chance they will be forced to move on, however, but that could signal the end of the Bombers’ reign in the West Division.
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