T.J. Lee: It’d be a ‘very sad departure’ if Lions can’t re-sign Bryan Burnham

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Defensive back T.J. Lee re-signed with the B.C. Lions on Tuesday and he’s hoping to see pending free agent receiver Bryan Burnham rejoin him in Vancouver.

“I came in with Burnham, so it’ll be a very sad departure for us to not be able to practice together. We have all these habits and handshakes that we’ve come up with. We have a practice routine — a pre and post-practice routine, me and Burnham — so that would be weird as well to not be able to do,” said Lee via videoconference.

“To not have him on the team, that’s a big piece of obviously the Lions over the last few years and he’s a production-based guy as well, so that’ll be sad. It would be very awkward to go against Burnham (if he joined an opposing team).”

Lee and Burnham first joined the Lions in 2014 and have been mainstays in the starting lineup ever since, dressing for a combined 190 games. Lee will turn 31 in March and Burnham will turn 32 exactly two weeks later.

Photo courtesy: B.C. Lions

The five-foot-nine, 190-pound defensive back anticipated that he would be back with B.C. after recording 71 defensive tackles, 12 special teams tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble in 2021.

“I was very sure I was going to be back, but it was a matter of the business aspect of it and crunching the numbers and figuring out something that we can agree upon for me to continue playing in orange,” said Lee.

“I’m excited to build on the bond with the guys that we have, the returning players because ultimately the more players we bring back, the closer the bond can continue to be. We can kind of pick up where we left off in terms of success.”

B.C. got off to a promising start in 2021, improving to 4-2 with a win over the Montreal Alouettes in Week 7. Things soon unravelled following the victory as the Lions lost seven consecutive games en route to a fourth-place finish in the West Division and no playoff berth.

Ryan Phillips was promoted to the role of defensive coordinator following the season as the only notable change on B.C.’s coaching staff. Lee and Phillips played together with the Lions for three seasons (2014-16) and have worked together closely since the latter became the club’s defensive backs coach in 2019.

“I feel comfortable enough to go upstairs and ask him advanced questions. I feel comfortable enough to embarrass myself in a situation where it’s like not knowing what I’m maybe talking about and mention something and getting made fun of, but also get the lesson and get what I need to continue to be successful,” said Lee.

“I look forward to that — having R.P. as a coach and holding his standard as a coach and helping him advance as a coach.”

B.C.’s top remaining free agents include Burnham, left tackle Joel Figueroa, cornerback Garry Peters, and guard Hunter Steward.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.