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Toronto Argonauts release quarterback Zach Collaros ahead of free agency

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Zach Collaros looks for a pass against the Montreal Alouettes during first half CFL football action in Toronto, on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. Collaros won't have to wait until the start of CFL free agency to find out how much he'll be worth on the open market.The Argonauts released the backup quarterback Wednesday, more than two weeks before Collaros was scheduled to become a free agent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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Toronto Argonauts quarterback Zach Collaros looks for a pass against the Montreal Alouettes during first half CFL football action in Toronto, on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. Collaros won't have to wait until the start of CFL free agency to find out how much he'll be worth on the open market.The Argonauts released the backup quarterback Wednesday, more than two weeks before Collaros was scheduled to become a free agent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO - Zach Collaros won't have to wait until the start of CFL free agency to find out how much he'll be worth on the open market.

The Toronto Argonauts released the backup quarterback Wednesday, more than two weeks before Collaros was scheduled to become a free agent. Instead of having to wait until Feb. 15 to begin weighing outside offers, Collaros is free to start testing the waters immediately and sign with the team of his choice.

The move wasn't a total surprise. Last week, Argos GM Jim Barker suggested Collaros would test CFL free agency rather than re-sign with Toronto prior to the deadline.

Barker said he tried re-signing Collaros and remains very interested in having Collaros back with the club. But by releasing him now Barker hopes to gain clarity on Collaros' situation by Feb. 15 rather than having to deal with that uncertainty once free agency begins.

"What's difficult is when you have a player who isn't sure how much he might be able to get on the open market," Barker said. "That's more difficult than dealing with having other teams talk to him.

"This has nothing to do with our relationship with Zach, we have a great relationship. He can now go and do the things he has to do to see where things are at and it will give us a little more clarity."

Collaros, 25, was solid last season, posting a 5-2 record as the starter while incumbent Ricky Ray was injured. Collaros also started Toronto's 23-20 regular-season finale loss to Montreal — Ray didn't dress because the Argos had already clinched first in the East Division — but was one of three quarterbacks to play that day.

The second-year player was especially sharp in a 38-21 win over B.C. on July 30, finishing 21-of-25 passing for 253 yards and three TDs. On Sept. 21, he completed 25-of-36 attempts for 330 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-27 victory over Calgary.

The six-foot-two, 216-pound Collaros finished the season completing 190-of-287 passes (66.2 per cent) for 2,316 yards with 14 TDs and six interceptions. He also ran 59 times for 246 yards and five touchdowns and will attract attention on the open market.

One team in need of a starting quarterback is Winnipeg, which had three different starters en route to posting a league-worst 3-15 record. This off-season, the Blue Bombers also hired former Argos special-teams co-ordinator Mike O'Shea as their new head coach.

The expansion Ottawa Redblacks, who begin play this season, will also look at Collaros but the expectation is GM Marcel Desjardins will do that with most available free agents. The franchise selected Calgary's Kevin Glenn and B.C.'s Thomas DeMarco in last month's CFL expansion draft and also has Matt Faulkner, who played collegiately at San Jose State, on the roster.

Collaros' availability could also make things interesting in Hamilton. Veteran Henry Burris guided the Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup appearance last November but the 38-year-old is slated to become a free agent next month.

If Burris doesn't return to Hamilton, that would leave the defending East Division champion with youngsters Dan LeFevour and Jeremiah Massoli along with former NFLers Brian Brohm and Stephen McGee under contract.

Barker was also clear he still wants to re-sign Collaros.

"We've been trying to sign him and obviously he wants to go to free agency, which is totally his right," Barker said. "We're not going to pull out."

If Collaros moves on, Barker feels Toronto will remain strong at quarterback in 2014. The Argos carried five passers last season — Ray, Collaros, sophomore Trevor Harris and newcomers Josh Portis and Mitchell Gale. All but Portis saw playing time in 2013.

"People forget Zach got the start (when Ray was hurt) but it was neck-and-neck with him and Trevor," Barker said. "Zach made the most of it and kudos to him for doing that.

"Trevor Harris has been with us now for a couple of years, he's got a tremendous upside and both Mitchell Gale and Josh Portis have a year in the system, they understand the reads, they understand what it takes to be a quarterback in this offence. I think there's going to be great competition to be our No. 2 and No. 3 should Zach choose to go somewhere else."

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