If the BC Lions seem to have been quiet in the off-season, well, it’s because they have.
They’ve signed new American players recently but a quick look at the Free Agency Tracker shows that there are just four moves in the Lions’ pending free agency den at the moment. Bryan Burnham announced his retirement on Dec. 6 and the team has extended kicker Sean Whyte, along with offensive lineman Andrew Peirson and defensive lineman David Menard.
There’s a reason for that, explains Lions’ co-general manager Neil McEvoy.
“We had spent to our cap at the end of the 2022 season, so we weren’t able to sign anyone after we signed Sean Whyte. After that, we didn’t have any space left to give guys signing bonuses so we just waited until the new year,” McEvoy said shortly after arriving in Kananaskis, in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains on Tuesday.
“We’re in the process now of getting some guys done and we should have some news.”
The other thing that’s slowing the Lions’ off-season roll is their quarterback, Nathan Rourke.
On the heels of a history-making season (even in spite of a foot injury that cost him eight games), Rourke has captured the attention of scouts across the NFL. His reported visit and workout on Tuesday with the New York Giants marked his 11th NFL workout. The Canadian Press is reporting that the 24-year-old will see another team still.
If Rourke doesn’t pursue a NFL option, he’ll get a fresh new contract from the Lions, which will no doubt eat up some of this year’s salary cap. There’s no guaranteed timeline on Rourke’s decision, McEvoy said, but with the NFL regular season ending he thinks clarity is coming.
“I think it’s going to be over the next 10 days but I can’t guarantee that. You can’t guarantee that,” he said.
“We unfortunately do have to wait to see what Mr. Rourke does. We’ve been in constant contact with him and going through all the scenarios as we get closer.”
The silver lining around the cloud of Rourke’s mid-season injury is that they have great depth at the QB spot. Should Rourke go the NFL route, the team will turn to Vernon Adams Jr., whom was acquired in a trade with the Alouettes shortly after Rourke sustained his Lisfranc sprain. Adams went 4-2 starting in Rourke’s place, with Rourke re-assuming starting duties in the final week of the regular season and both of BC’s playoff games.
“We’re comfortable with him. I like Vernon and I’ve always liked him,” McEvoy said. “It’s one of the reasons why we were able to pay a steep price for him (the Lions sent their 2023 first round pick in the CFL Draft to the Alouettes for Adams).
“Free agency wise, we’re going to have to wait and see how we can do our with our own guys. We dug into free agency pretty heavy last year. That’s yet to be determined if we’re going to be that aggressive this year.”
Should the Lions go into 2023 without Rourke, Adams can easily slide into that starting position with minimal disruption. He isn’t the exact same quarterback as Rourke, but he plays a similar game. That would help offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic and the rest of the Lions’ offence move into the new season without having to overhaul things.
“Having Vernon with us for a full season is going to do nothing but help him,” McEvoy said.
“Jordan does a great job with our quarterbacks. Our offensive staff does a great job with that group and that’s a testament to Vernon coming in halfway through the year, not only fitting in within our tight knit group, but he was able to pick up the offence pretty quick and we were able to win some football games.
“The fact that he’s going to have a full season, a whole training camp and everything else…I’m excited to see how he is able to bring it with us because at the end of the day, wherever he’s been, he’s been a winner. We wanted to bring in guys that will fit within our organization and win on the field.”