No question – the job of the Argo coaching staff is to get this team into and through the playoffs so they can defend last year’s Grey Cup. And they have to play their cards to give them the best chance to win each game en route.
But every time Zack Collaros takes the field for the Argos, Ottawa RedBlacks GM, Marcel Desjardins must be licking his chops. Following this season there will be a dispersal draft of players to help Ottawa field a competitive team in 2014. And they will have the privilege of plucking two quarterbacks from existing rosters.
Every team will have the right to protect one QB, but all remaining QBs on their roster are fair game. So it is essentially the second stringers that Desjardins has his eyes on. Who are the most likely candidates? Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell might be the number one choice as he has had the opportunity to showcase his talents with the league leading Stampeders. But he has taken over the #1 job recently, and he is likely the QB they will protect. That potentially leaves Drew Tate and Kevin Glenn unprotected. Tate has proven to be a bit brittle for the professional game, and Glenn (who will be 34 next season) may be approaching his best before date.
Saskatchewan is high on back-up Drew Willy. At 27 he has many good years ahead, and has had the chance to play sporadically this year, filling in for starter Darian Durant. He has shown reasonably well, but not at the level of Mitchell and Collaros. Durant will be protected.
Another possibility is Matt Nichols in Edmonton. Until he got hurt, he was to be in a nose-to-nose competition for the starting job with Mike Reilly. But he is still unproven, and one assumes Reilly will be protected.
No other back-ups have shown they can lead a professional team. So barring the totally unforeseen, Zack Collaros surfaces as the most likely apple of Marcel Desjardin’s eye.
So where do the Argos stand? Dare we mention the unthinkable? Would the Argos consider not protecting Ricky Ray? Could a case be made for protecting young Zach Collaros and possibly losing arguably the best QB in the CFL today?
If so, here’s the case. Ray will turn 35 during next year’s season. Although age hasn’t yet diminished his physical skills, he has missed considerable playing time over the past two seasons due to three separate injuries. The physicality of professional football may be catching up with him. If one considers the likelihood of further injuries in the future, how attractive is not having Collaros to back him up?
With all the punishment that a quarterback takes these days, Ray may feel that retirement is looming sooner than later. Then where would the Argos be without both Ray and Collaros?
Salary cap could loom large. Ricky is reputed to be the highest paid player in the CFL. Eric Tillman’s publicly stated reason for trading Ray was to free up cap space so he could attract higher quality talent at other positions. If Argo brass felt that Collaros could provide anywhere near the consistent production of Ray, might they feel they could actually improve the team by shedding the veteran’s salary and using that cap space elsewhere?
Here’s another consideration. In the dispersal draft, each team may protect only six Canadians (non-imports). But if a team loses a quarterback, that team gets to protect two additional non-imports. Many insiders feel that the success of a CFL team rests on the quality of its Canadian players.
One more question – if Ray were left unprotected, would Ottawa grab him? Do they want to try to win the Grey Cup in year one, or are they more interested in building for the future? Would they consider Ricky Ray a building block, or simply a short term opportunity to sell seats? And would they want him enough to sacrifice valuable salary cap space?
At a recent press conference, Coach Milanovich was asked if the impending draft had any impact on his strategy regarding quarterbacks. After a pensive pause, he simply responded “No.” That was likely a 90% honest answer, as his task right now is to field the best team he can for each game. What he failed to mention, however, is that Argos are carrying five quarterbacks on their combined active, injured and practice rosters, most in the CFL. With the exception of Ray, they are all good young promising QBs. It sure looks like Argos are planning to lose a QB in the dispersal draft.
The question is, which one?
– Mike Mallory –