What Henry Burris’ retirement means for Ottawa

After weighing the pros and cons of retirement, Ottawa Redblacks’ quarterback Henry Burris has decided to hang’em up, ending a magical 20 year career.

While Burris’ decision may come as a surprise to some, ultimately, the opportunity to go as a Grey Cup MVP, combined with a desire to spend more time with his family (and perhaps the knowledge that a return would lead directly to holding a clipboard for Trevor Harris), swayed Burris’ decision.

From his point of view, it’s easy to see why Burris relished the opportunity to go out on top, as so few of the greats do. As he noted in his press conference, it’s rare for a 20 year vet to walk away from football with his health. Despite not addressing it directly, it’s also understandable that he wasn’t keen on returning as a backup. Maybe if he’d been allowed a chance to fight for the starting job in training camp, we’d be having a different conversation, but given the competitive fire that has guided Hank his whole career, it’s no shock he didn’t want to play second fiddle. It was never realistic to expect the 2015 MOP and 2016 Grey Cup MVP to quietly accept a demotion when he’s playing the best football of his career.

On the other hand, it’s pretty straightforward from the Redblacks’ perspective as well; this is exactly how the succession plan was laid out. Harris is the future and was promised a starting role in 2017 when he signed with the team last off-season. The risk of alienating Harris and losing him at the end of the next season as a free agent was simply too great a risk for GM Marcel Desjardins to take. By committing to Harris as the starter for 2017, the Redblacks have shown their loyalty to him, ensuring the team has an elite level QB under centre for the foreseeable future.

Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris, right, and quarterback Trevor Harris (7) celebrate after defeating the Calgary Stampeders during overtime CFL Grey Cup football action on Sunday, November 27, 2016 in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

But let’s get back to Burris. In three short years, he’s sealed his legacy as an all-time great and helped bring Ottawa football back from the dead, restoring civic pride in the nation’s capital and gifting a new generation of fans with iconic memories of their own. From signature moments like a game against the Montreal Alouettes where he completed a CFL record 45 passes, to hitting Greg Ellingson for a go-ahead 93 yard touchdown in the dying minutes of the 2015 East Final, to an epic five touchdown outburst on one knee this past November (three in the air, two on the ground), Burris has been everything Desjardins hoped for when he made Hank one of the first free agent signings in franchise history back in 2014.

In addition to his on the field exploits, off of it, Burris carried out his role as the face of the franchise to a tee, always giving fans the time of day and obliging them a chat, picture or autograph. That’s why even though nobody in R-Nation will hold his decision against him, many yearned to see Burris return for another year.

Given that this is indeed the end of his playing days, how does the loss of Burris affect the Redblacks going forward?

Controversy avoided

From a PR standpoint, Burris retiring was ideal for the Redblacks because it avoided an off-season of media speculation on a rift or clash between Burris and Harris. Additionally, by turning to Harris now, the Redblacks can work on extending him and getting him signed to a long term contract. Desjardins only has to look across the 417 to see how Montreal has struggled the past few seasons without an established pivot.

Harris at the helm

Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris (7) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts during second half CFL action on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Over to you Trevor Harris, this team is now completely yours. R-Nation got a preview of what life with Harris under centre looks like; gorgeous deep balls, a lack of interceptions and the ability to put up incredible numbers. Now in his second year with the team, Harris is officially “the man” and is being paid as such. With Burris out of the picture, the pressure to defend the Grey Cup on home soil fails squarely on Harris’ shoulders.

Mo’ money, mo’ re-signings?

Even though he wasn’t going to be paid as a starter if he’d returned in 2017, Burris still would’ve made at least $200,000. With that salary hit coming off the books, Desjardins can buckle down and use the next three weeks to lock up some of his potential 22 free agents. In a league where players aren’t paid like their brethren down south, a couple thousand dollars towards a raise often makes the difference between a player leaving or sticking around. Hopefully, Desjardins can put some of his newfound cap space to good use and retain some high priority potential free agents.

QB hunting

Although the Redblacks shouldn’t expect a drop in the calibre of QB play with Harris on the field, the reality is that without Burris, Ottawa loses valuable depth at the game’s most important position. Aside from Harris, Brock Jensen is the only other QB signed through 2017, and despite his potential, nobody is in a rush to see him starting games. Ottawa will surely bring in someone to compete with Jensen but given the lack of marquee names set to hit the market and the costliness of making a trade, it’s likely the Redblacks sign an unknown QB and seek to develop him. Not having a proven backup is a gamble in a year where Ottawa desperately wants to return to the Grey Cup. Things could get real interesting if Harris goes down with a long term injury and his backup struggles, would such a scenario lure Burris out of retirement? He downplayed the odds of returning during his retirement conference, but never say never.

Switching positions

Lastly, just because Burris is retired doesn’t mean he’s leaving the spotlight. While some players struggle with the transition to post-football life, by all accounts Burris is set for success. Though nothing was officially announced, Burris will likely continue to help OSEG promote the Redblacks brand in some capacity. Furthermore, as he already has media experience under his belt with CTV Ottawa, Burris likely has a gig awaiting should he choose to take it. Even a role on TSN’s CFL panel isn’t out of the question. So don’t fret R-Nation, he might not be taking the field anymore but you won’t have to look far to find Burris.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).