‘The team is more important’: B.C. Lions’ QB Vernon Adams Jr. takes less money in ‘Grey Cup or bust’ season

Courtesy: Steven Chang/B.C. Lions

Vernon Adams Jr. knows there’s a price if the B.C. Lions are going to win a Grey Cup at home in 2024 and he’s willing to pay it out of his own pocket.

The 31-year-old quarterback inked a contract extension with the Lions on Wednesday, keeping him with the team through 2026. In so doing, he will take home just $393,000 in hard money against the cap next season — well below market value for a player who led the CFL in passing last year.

That was a conscious choice by Adams, who won’t be caught pinching pennies in pursuit of a championship.

“When I first got here in 2022, I said, man, this locker room, this team, these coaches, this is a Grey Cup team. We came up short the last two years, but I know we still have it,” Adams told the media on Thursday.

“I knew for us to get the players — Hollins, Hatch, Cottoy, Sione (Teuhema), some of these guys, Ben (Hladik), Woods, all these guys — I knew I had to take less. I couldn’t be in the top three (highest-paid) area, which I felt like I am as a player. I think the team is more important and that’s why I took less this year.”

Adams took home $336,000 last year, his first as the team’s starter, but far out-played the contract. He completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 4,769 yards, 31 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, finishing top in the CFL with 10 games of over 300 yards passing.

The Pasadena, Cal. native was due a big pay raise this year but opted to take less, instead kicking it down the road. He’ll now earn $500,000 in hard money in 2025 and $505,000 in 2026, with half of his final year salary fully guaranteed. That provides the Lions with additional flexibility heading into 2024.

“We want him aligned with what quarterbacks should make in this league, but also I think he sees the big picture,” head coach Rick Campbell told reporters. “He wants to win and make sure that he’s paid fairly and at the same time, he’s all in on the B.C. Lions winning.”

“When you call him a selfless guy, I think he does that in all areas. How he behaves in this building, how he is in the community, all those things. He’s a good leader for our team, that’s for sure.”

The Lions have been one of the top teams in the CFL over the past two years, in no small part due to Adams. Acquired via trade from Montreal midway through the 2022 season, he stepped in immediately for an injured Nathan Rourke and helped the team to maintain their second seed in the playoff race. Handed the full-time role the following season, he ensured that B.C. experienced no substantial drop-off after the loss of their generational Canadian pivot.

Both of those campaigns ended in the Western Final at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with Adams struggling mightily in the 2023 outing. With a bad taste in his mouth and the 110th Grey Cup game scheduled to be played in Vancouver next November, the eight-year veteran isn’t about to leave things to chance.

“We all know here the standard is Grey Cup or bust,” Adams vowed. “The last two years, it’s been Western Final, 12-6, 12-6. My message to everyone I’ve spoken to is ‘Grey Cup or bust.’ Everyone needs to be dialled in. Day one, I’m saying this at training camp. 18 games, locked in, sacrifice whatever you need to sacrifice, but we’re tired of getting stopped right there.”

“Winnipeg is a great team. All of these teams, it can be anyone’s day at any moment. But we know it’s time. The Grey Cup is here in Vancouver; let’s go!”

By shaving his own salary, the Oregon product has allowed the Lions to retain more of their own stars, while hopefully adding a few more weapons to the arsenal. Chief among those is his former Alouettes teammate, running back William Stanback, whom Adams lobbied to join the Lions in free agency and fix the league’s worst rushing attack.

“Just being a little bit more balanced, I think everyone will say that,” the quarterback acknowledge when asked how his team can get over the hump.

“Having a run game, Jordan (Maksymic) is doing a great job already diving into all that stuff, him and Kelly Bates. Getting Stanback, having Smoke (Mizzell) as well, a good one-two punch. I think we’ll have the opportunity to go two American backs sometimes, we’ll see how it goes depending on the ratio.”

B.C. has been widely criticized for their one-dimensional offence in the past two postseasons, falling to the rugged Bombers both times in the frosty confines of Princess Auto Stadium. While the team wants to end the season at BC Place no matter what, some believe home-field advantage is required for two playoff games if the team is to break the second-longest Grey Cup drought in the league.

“We don’t need to (play at home) but we would sure like to,” Adams grinned.

The Lions will get a chance to make good on their quarterback’s financial investment when they open the 2024 season on Sunday, June 9 in Toronto against the Argonauts.

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.