O’Leary: Examining the post-Rourke BC Lions

General managers and coaches don’t like to play the what-if game, but it’s hard not to go there with the BC Lions; especially now.

When Nathan Rourke went down with a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot in Week 12 last season, it felt like the worst-case scenario for the Lions and the league. Rourke exploded out of the gate in 2022, etching his name into the record books, then re-writing his own history with his next performance. Rourke was a strong Most Outstanding Player candidate at the time and replacing him felt like an impossible task.

When the Lions traded for Vernon Adams Jr., they landed the ultimate insurance policy. Even before Rourke’s injury, there was buzz around his NFL possibilities. Adams provided the short-term solution that the team was looking for — he went 4-2 while learning a new offence and building chemistry with teammates, while helping the Lions to a home playoff game — and today lets the team continue with its off-season without skipping a beat.

“Having Vernon with us for a full season is going to do nothing but help him,” Lions’ co-GM and director of football operations Neil McEvoy told CFL.ca at last week’s team president and GM meetings from Kananaskis, Alta.

Market Ready: The 2023 CFL Free Agent Tracker
CFL.ca’s top 30 pending free agents
» Nathan Rourke to sign with NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars
Steinberg’s MMQB: What do you say, Big Play VA?
Lions confident on QB spot, whatever 2023 may hold


“Jordan (Maksymic, the Lions’ offensive coordinator) 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.”

If Sunday was a down day for CFL fans, sad to see a talented Canadian quarterback leave for the NFL, it was a pat on the back for Adams, who quickly got some love from his Lions’ teammates and fans.

With the 2019 East Division All-Star stepping in to assume starting duties, the pieces of the 2023 season start to fall into place for the Lions. Adams isn’t Rourke, but the two play a similar style, skilled at hitting the open receiver for big plays and thriving when they get out of the pocket. There shouldn’t be a schematic overhaul on offence and as McEvoy mentioned, the time Adams spent with the Lions through the second half of 2022 paired with a training camp and pre-season to take into this season leaves the team in an excellent spot.

That spot likely wouldn’t have existed had Rourke not been injured last year and the Lions could have been heading into free agency in a more dire position this week.

With their quarterback question answered, McEvoy, Rick Campbell and the Lions can get down to business with a quickly approaching free agency period. McEvoy acknowledged last week that the Lions were active in last year’s free agency and suggested they may not duplicate that amount of work this year, instead focusing on keeping the players they had last year.

“We’re going to try to bring as many guys back as we can,” McEvoy said.

“We’ve obviously lost Bryan Burnham to retirement but we feel that we have a good contingency for that. We unfortunately had to test that theory last year when Bryan got hurt twice. We’re comfortable with the guys we have.

“We’re going to be looking for guys to complement the current group that we already have. We’re excited with the fact that we are going to talk to all our current free agents. We liked our football team last year, so we’re going to try to bring back as many guys as we can and we’ll start building off of what we had last year.”

The comment system on this website is now powered by the CFL.ca Forums. We'd love for you to be part of the conversation; click the Start Discussion button below to register an account and join the community!