Rob Vanstone: Zach Collaros deal creates an unsettling feeling

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The oft-concussed, oft-traded Zach Collaros is now a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Any right-thinking person will wish him well in a new locale — while fearing that his presumed elevation to the active roster could prove to be a horrible mistake.

Collaros already had a concussion history when he joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders via a Jan. 3, 2018 trade with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The veteran quarterback sustained two additional concussions during the 2018 CFL season.

The 2019 campaign was just three plays old when Collaros was the victim of yet another head injury — courtesy of an illegal hit by Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence.

Collaros has not played a down since June 13 — a few hours before the Toronto Raptors clinched a landmark NBA championship.

The emergence of Cody Fajardo as a bona-fide No. 1 quarterback made it especially easy for Roughriders general manager and vice-president of football operations Jeremy O’Day to trade Collaros to Toronto on July 31 for a fourth-round pick in the 2020 CFL draft.

Mere minutes after the league’s trade deadline, Collaros was on the move once more. On Wednesday afternoon, Winnipeg obtained Collaros and a fifth-rounder from Toronto in return for a third-rounder. The latter pick will be upgraded to a first-rounder if Collaros, who can become a free agent in February, re-signs with Winnipeg.

The buzzer-beating transaction was necessitated by the Blue Bombers’ lack of depth, production and good fortune at football’s most crucial position.

In the absence of Matt Nichols, who is shelved for the season following shoulder surgery, Chris Streveler has struggled to move the Winnipeg offence. Until Wednesday, untested Sean McGuire was next in line.

Bombers general manager Kyle Walters had to do something to address the dearth of experience behind Streveler.

With Collaros having been cleared to play, Walters opted to roll the dice.

Collaros provides the requisite experience, while also becoming the most-accomplished quarterback on the Blue Bombers’ roster.

On that basis, the deal is defensible. But the worst fears will not abate.

What if Collaros, who has been acquired as an insurance policy, returns to the field and suffers yet another injurious blow to the head?

What non-football consequences might there be if another concussion is added to a list that is already of excessive length?

Does anybody want this on their conscience?

This is written with the knowledge that football is an inherently violent sport.

Every possible measure could be enacted with player safety being paramount, but collisions are part of the game. Plus, quarterbacks are targeted by snorting behemoths every time a pass is attempted.

Most recently, there was the hit by Lawrence, who was handed a two-game suspension. But one does not have to sustain an illegal blow to end up being concussed. Such a misfortune could have befallen someone who had never before experienced a concussion.

It is a dangerous sport. Everyone involved is well aware of the considerable risks.

The risk would seem to be elevated, though, in the case of Collaros.

The rewards? Those should not be discounted, either.

Saskatchewan won 10 of the 14 games Collaros started last season, in which the Roughriders were dead last in the league in offensive touchdowns (25) and TD passes (11).

Dominant defensive play was the foundation of the Roughriders’ success in 2018, but Collaros still had his moments.

On Oct. 20, for example, Saskatchewan defeated the Calgary Stampeders — the eventual Grey Cup champions — 29-24 at McMahon Stadium. Collaros enjoyed his finest game as a Roughrider, throwing for 352 yards.

Once the playoffs arrived, though, Collaros was again a bystander — the result of an illegal hit to the head in the regular-season finale.

With Brandon Bridge calling signals in place of Collaros, the Roughriders lost 23-18 to the visiting Blue Bombers in the West Division semi-final.

Bridge misfired on two passes that should have resulted in touchdowns by Naaman Roosevelt. Given those opportunities for six points, Collaros would have connected at least once, and likely twice.

So there’s the upside for the Blue Bombers. By adding Collaros, Winnipeg now employs a quarterback who could provide a credible presence behind centre in the playoffs.

Walters simply could not allow a once-promising season to slip away as a result of substandard quarterbacking. Hence the acquisition of Collaros.

The transaction — the league’s lone deadline deal — does create some intriguing possibilities.

Suppose that the Bombers end up visiting Saskatchewan for a post-season game. Suppose that Collaros, whose injury scuttled the Roughriders’ playoff hopes in 2018, finally receives an opportunity to compete in a post-season game at Mosaic Stadium.

Such a story would write itself.

As someone who has weathered an inordinate amount of head injuries as a CFLer, Collaros richly deserves a healthy, happy ending to his playing career.

Nobody wants to sign off as the victim of a late hit.

In the same breath, nobody wants a repeat of June 13. As Collaros prepares to resume his playing career, the discomforting image of his most-recent on-field appearance simply will not disappear.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

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