Chris Streveler providing guidance to Nathan Rourke as rare modern CFL-to-NFL QB

Courtesy: AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

A generation ago, it was relatively common for top CFL quarterbacks to sign contracts south of the border but the same can’t be said of the past decade.

Chris Streveler and Nathan Rourke are the only two notable passers to make the jump from the CFL to the NFL in recent history and Streveler, who signed back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers two weeks ago, has paid close attention to Rourke’s foray down south.

“I’ve followed his journey very closely and I’m a fan of his game. He’s a heck of a player,” Streveler recently told the media via videoconference. “I’ve definitely opened up myself as a resource to him. It’s just, ‘Hey, man, I know the path you’re about to walk.’ It can be a rocky road coming from the CFL and being an undrafted guy.”

Streveler indicated that Rourke reached out to him shortly after he signed back with the Blue Bombers to congratulate him on the contract. The pair are in communication as Streveler looks to help the former CFL Most Outstanding Canadian in any way he can.

“I’ve opened myself as a resource to him, just, ‘Hey, anything you need, any perspective I can give you on this business, please let me know,'” said Streveler. “He’s got his head on straight, he’s very focused, and he’s a great player. He’s gonna be just fine but to have someone that’s kind of been through that journey a little bit, that’s why I just wanted to open myself up as a resource to him.”

Streveler’s tenure down south was full of high peaks and low valleys. He threw a touchdown pass during his debut with the Arizona Cardinals and garnered international attention for his preseason play with the New York Jets, but he was also cut four times, attempting only 40 regular season passes over his four years in the league.

The 29-year-old understands first-hand how tough it can be to handle the whiplash that accompanies success and failure in the NFL, especially when you’re a quarterback from a non-major American college program who went undrafted coming out of school.

“It’s a journey, it’s been filled with highs and lows. You win a Grey Cup, you make the Cardinals? Great, you’re riding high. You throw a pick-six in a must-win game going to the playoffs? Now you’re the worst quarterback in the world and you get cut. You sign with the Ravens, you get cut. You sign the Dolphins, you get cut. You sign with the Jets, you’re not getting any reps in practice, you go throw three game-winning touchdowns,” said Strevler.

“That is football. It’s a roller coaster and I’m just so thankful for the people that have supported me through the ups and downs because it’s very easy for people to stay on board when you’re throwing touchdown passes and you’re making teams. Who’s with you when you’re getting cut? Who’s standing up for you when you’re throwing pick-sixes? There’s been so many people that have stood by me through this journey and continue to support me.”

Doug Flutie played eight seasons in the NFL after being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player a record six times and Jeff Garcia made four Pro Bowls following a five-year run with the Calgary Stampeders from 1994 to 1998. Other CFL standouts who got NFL opportunities just over 20 years ago include Henry Burris, Ricky Ray, and Dave Dickenson.

These days, those chances are far more rare. Bo Levi Mitchell and Michael Reilly worked out for NFL teams after reaching CFL stardom but never ended up signing contracts. Zach Collaros may have gotten a shot following his breakout year in 2015 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but he suffered a torn ACL shortly after Labour Day.

Dan LeFevour deserves mention alongside Streveler and Rourke after he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016, though he was cut before training camp. Danny Etling technically qualifies as he signed with four NFL teams after a stint in the CFL in 2021, but was only a member of the practice roster with the B.C. Lions for three weeks.

Rourke is now a member of the New England Patriots after being claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars late during the 2023 season. He will become a restricted free agent later this off-season, which means New England can choose to bring him back for 2024 or cut him loose.

The Patriots are a team in transition as head coach and general manager Bill Belichick mutually parted ways with the club following a 4-13 season, ending a 24-year run that included six Super Bowls over nine appearances. Though it seems clear that former first-round pick Mac Jones won’t be back with the team, the club may address the quarterback position with the third overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Regardless of how things play out for Rourke in New England, he’s clearly in no hurry to rush back to the CFL and, in the meantime, he’ll have fellow players like Chris Streveler to lean on for support.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.