B.C. Lions’ Rick Campbell: Canadian QB Nathan Rourke would have made more money in CFL than NFL in 2023

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke signed a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars that includes $221,000 USD in guaranteed money but his former CFL team says he could have made more if he stayed in Canada.

“He’d be making more in the CFL than he’s gonna make in the NFL this year, so it wasn’t about money,” B.C. Lions head coach and co-general manager Rick Campbell said in an interview with 3DownNation. “It was just about chasing his dream at the end of the day.”

Rourke’s three-year deal with the Jaguars will pay him a base salary of $750,000 USD in 2023, with that number rising to $915,000 USD in year two and $1.03 million USD in its final season. While that is far above the $600,000 CAD that the CFL’s highest-paid quarterback, Zach Collaros of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, will collect next year, the 24-year-old only receives the full amount if he spends the entirety of the season on the active roster.

Jacksonville only carried two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster in 2022 while a third, undrafted rookie E.J. Perry, spent the year on the practice roster where he collect $230,000 USD. The team released Perry earlier this offseason despite signing him to a reserve/futures contract when the season ended, lending credence to Rourke’s claims that he was given “reassurance” by the Jaguars that he would be able to compete for the number two job behind Trevor Lawrence. However, the franchise also signed veteran backup C.J. Beathard to a two-year, $4.5 million USD extension which included $2 million USD in guarantees.

Rourke would have no such competition with the Lions, where he was scheduled to enter the final year of his rookie contract. That would have paid him a maximum of $86,000 CAD but sources confirm that the team would have been allowed to rip up that deal and offer him a lucrative extension. Co-general manager Neil McEvoy acknowledged that those conversations took place, but would not reveal how high the team was willing to go to keep the young star in B.C.

“I don’t want to get into exactly how much. We gave a competitive offer that would have kept us in some cap-friendly space but at the end of the day, he made it quite clear early on, once the season had ended, that he really wanted to pursue the National Football League, regardless of how many opportunities were there for him,” the long-time personnel man explained. “When he made the decision in January to move on, we weren’t fazed. We knew this was gonna happen and so we were able to pick up and go in the right direction.”

Originally drafted in the second round of the 2020 CFL Draft after an outstanding collegiate career at Ohio University, Rourke threw for 3,349 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions during his first season as the Lions starter. He also rushed for 304 yards and seven touchdowns, despite playing just 10 games due to surgery for a Lisfranc sprain in his foot.

After becoming the first quarterback to win Most Outstanding Canadian since 1980, the Oakville, Ont. native could have reasonably expected to become one of the CFL’s highest-paid players on his second contract. Collaros’ benchmark deal in Winnipeg included $300,000 CAD as a signing bonus and guaranteed 50 percent of his salary in the final year of the contract — aspects likely to be replicated on any deal signed by Rourke.

Instead, he focused on the considerable NFL interest for his talents, working out with 12 teams before landing in Jacksonville.

“I think he was just trying to navigate his way to making the best possible decision for him. I know he was gonna be happy either way,” Campbell said. “If it ended up that he was back in B.C., he was going to be totally excited about it. One of his comments was this wasn’t about money, which is true. He’d probably be making more money in this league than he would down there but I totally understand what he’s doing.”

“A young guy that came out when COVID was happening and all that stuff and I wouldn’t bet against him. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I wouldn’t bet against the guy. When he’s got a goal and got to focus, he’s going to go give it his best shot and we’ll be rooting hard for him.”

The Lions have voiced their support for Vernon Adams Jr. as their new starting quarterback and traded for veteran Dane Evans to help fill the void left by the departing Canadian. Nevertheless, the loss of potential generational talent at the game’s most important position will hurt the team.

Though he cannot deny that the Lions would have opened up the coffers to make Rourke stay, McEvoy isn’t interested in lingering on the issue.

“The reality is he didn’t [earn more]. He made the decision to go to the States, so we’ve moved on. He’s moved on. He’s, as of right now, an alumni,” he stressed. “We have a very good contingent group of quarterbacks in our building right now who are excited about being B.C. Lions and I see nothing but good things happening.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.