‘I don’t expect Nathan back’: potential Rourke return not a consideration after Lions’ long-term deal with Vernon Adams Jr.

Courtesy: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The B.C. Lions didn’t consider a possible reunion with Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke before signing Vernon Adams Jr. to a three-year contract extension.

“Looking at the landscape and the future of quarterbacking in the Canadian Football League, I felt it was imperative to lock up our quarterback for as long as we could so we at least had stability at that position,” co-general manager Neil McEvoy told reporters this week. “I didn’t want to put us in a position where we were stuck with, name another guy.”

Adams Jr. inked an extension with the Lions in February, keeping him with the team through 2026. The 31-year-old renegotiated to receive less money in the first year of his deal, citing a desire to help the team win. He will collect $395,000 in hard money in 2024, before his earnings jump to $500,000 and $505,000 in the second and third years of the new contract.

The deal was struck a week before Rourke, the Lions’ 2022 starter, signed a one-year extension with the New England Patriots worth $915,000 USD. The 25-year-old was claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars late last season and remains on the bubble entering his second year in the NFL.

While fans may be holding out hope for Rourke to return to the CFL in the near future, the Lions are not.

“The way my mind is working, I don’t expect Nathan back,” head coach Rick Campbell said. “Just having worked with him and what he’s like, I think the more he’s down there, the longer he’s around, he’s gonna stay. I would guess Nathan will be super happy if he comes back to the CFL, either way he’s going to be happy, but the mindset is that he’s gonna be down there for a while.”

Rourke completed 78.7 percent of his passes for 3,349 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2022, rushing 39 times for 304 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 regular season games. The Oakville, Ont. native won the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian award despite missing half the season with a Lisfranc injury.

Adams was acquired by the Lions via trade from Montreal in the wake of that injury, throwing for 1,504 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception in six starts before the Canadian phenom returned for the playoffs. After Rourke jumped to the NFL, he was named the full-time starter in 2024 and led the CFL in passing, throwing for 4,769 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions.

“VA’s done everything that we’ve wanted since he’s been here, since he came in and filled in for Nathan,” Campbell said. “He’s been everything we’d hoped on the field and off the field and I think he’s all in on being a B.C. Lion and we feel lucky to have him.”

B.C. rewarded that performance with a long-term commitment, as well as significant financial certainty. Half of Adams’ salary is guaranteed in the final year of the contract, meaning that the Lions will be on the hook for that money whether or not he is on the roster.

That cumbersome amount of dead money would seem to take the Lions out of the market for Rourke if he were to return to the CFL. A massive payout to Adams could leave the team unable to participate in a bidding war before 2027, though McEvoy would not rule out any future possibilities.

“The word eliminates is never going to be used,” he said. “Right now, we’re happy with Vernon and I’m not going to talk about a quarterback that’s under contract with another team. Vernon Adams has won a lot of football games in this league. He’s going to continue to do so and we’re going to continue to win with him.”

The Lions will 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.