“I love the environment. I love the city, community”

Zach Collaros might have garnered more in the Canadian Football League free-agent market.

Check that… based on all the success the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have had since his arrival in October of 2019 – and it’s a ton – there’s no doubt the all-star quarterback could have pulled in more dollars elsewhere.

Still, it was more than simply the financial rewards which were in play before the veteran pivot officially put his name on a three-year contract extension this week that will keep him in blue and gold through the 2025 season. There’s his legacy with this franchise – none of which he wants to talk about – but most of all it’s about two things, besides the financial: chasing more Ws and championships, and his overall comfort level with his surroundings here.

All this, remember, unfolding after he was acquired in a last-second deal at the trade deadline three years ago.

“Blessed. Lucky. Very fortunate. However you want to coin that,” said Collaros at a media conference Tuesday when asked the words he’d use to be in this position. “Every time I see Wade (Miller, Blue Bombers President & CEO), I shake his hand and give him a hug and thank him for bringing me in and allowing me to be part of this. I say the same to Osh (head coach Mike O’Shea) and (GM) Kyle Walters often as well, and Darren (Cameron, Senior Director of Player and Public Relations).

“So, just very fortunate to be part of the organization, to be part of the community, city and province. I say this a lot, but it’s a credit the organization here for fostering that environment. To be involved in that, I’m very fortunate and I’d like to continue that moving forward.”

Contract discussions between Walters and the Collaros camp, led by his agent Dan Vertlieb, began heating up about a month ago. Collaros made it clear he wanted to sign a long-term deal and the club, quite obviously, wanted him locked up not just for clarity at the most important position, but for the trickle-down effect his signing could have in negotiations with other pending free agents.

“Certainly, we’ll have more names after the Grey Cup and early in the new year that we think we’ll have done as well,” said Walters.

“… Hopefully this is a trend that guys want to commit. Around the league, not just here. It would be really good for our league if we start getting the star players on each team committed to longer contracts.”

The two sides also benefitted from a clause in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows for teams to guarantee a portion of the contract, with Walters confirming that 50 percent of the final year of Collaros’ contract locked in financially. Said Collaros: “It’s big for the CFL. It’ll add some stability for organizations as well as fan bases. Anytime you can have the same group of guys on a team, it’s good.

“That definitely played a part in getting to a multi-year thing.”

Collaros also got the thumbs up from his wife Nicole, who is from Toronto and was a teacher in the area before going on maternity leave.

“She loves the community, she loves the team, she loves the wives and everybody here,” he said. “So, it’s been good.”

Again, though, jotting his name down on a new deal was about more than just the dollar signs.

“I love the environment. I love the city, community,” he said. “But, again, this organization – from Wade, on through Osh 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 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, the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, is having another sensational season in 2022. He’s thrown for 4,115 yards and 35 touchdowns in his 16 starts – both career highs – and his 7,521 yards passing as a Blue Bomber also ranks 11th on the franchise’s all-time list.

Most important is his role in the ultimate bottom line: he has helped the club win consecutive Grey Cup titles and an overall record of 31-4. His days in Winnipeg, simply put, have been life changing. So, too, has been his growth as a player and a person.

“I could talk to you for an hour about that,” he said. “A lot has changed in my life, personally, since joining the organization. I tell a lot of those guys in the locker room, I thank them often for their leadership.

“We have guys like Adam Bighill, Paddy (Neufeld), Jake (Thomas), and Stan (Bryant) and Willie (Jefferson) and Jackson (Jeffcoat), Mikey (Couture) and Jessie (Briggs)… guys that I kind of sit back and I watch and try to take something from them, the way they conduct themselves, not just in the building but at home with their families, too. I think I’ve grown a lot, personally, so I try to go out of my way to thank those guys for that, and the way they handle themselves.

“And then, obviously, we didn’t have any children when we signed here in ’19. Nicole was pregnant. And that changed my life radically, for the better. So. I’m really happy to be able to share that with my family.”

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