A Canadian Quarterback Update!
8:04 PM EST on January 15, 2023
Well, well, well. Nathan Rourke, the subject of my long November blog on Rourkemania and the curious dearth of Canadian quarterbacks in the CFL, announced Sunday afternoon that he's signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Rourke worked out with 12 teams before making his decision.
The 24-year-old Rourke played so well for the BC Lions in his first year as a starting QB in the CFL that people around the league considered it inevitable that he would make a jump to the NFL. When his CFL season ended, with a loss to Winnipeg in the West Division Final, Rourke told CFL reporters he wasn't sure he would be returning to the Lions. “I don't know," he said. "I’d sure like to be, the way that I’m feeling right now.” Schefter tweeted the next day that Rourke would be visiting with multiple NFL teams. After Rourke accepted the CFL's award for Most Outstanding Canadian later that week, he explained, "I never had a true opportunity at the NFL level, not as a quarterback. And that’s always been something that I’ve wanted to at least try for a very long time."
During the CFL's winter NFL signing window, CFL players under contract can visit with NFL teams and opt out of their CFL contract upon receipt of an NFL offer. NFL teams were allowed to begin signing players to futures contracts for the 2023 season on Jan. 9. Rourke's workout circuit featured some of the more depressing teams the NFL has to offer (Colts, Cardinals, Raiders) and also some less hopeless teams, including the Vikings, Jaguars, and Chiefs.
What exactly was Rourke looking for in a potential NFL opportunity? That he signed with Jacksonville suggests it wasn't lots of playing time (Unless he signed his contract in the first half of Saturday's wild card game, ha ha.) TSN's Farhan Lalji told me in November that the "right situation" for Rourke would give him a clear path to a QB2 role. "He needs to have a portion of his first-year contract guaranteed, and he needs to know that that team's not going to draft a quarterback. You gotta go to the right situation, you don't just go for the sake of going," Lalji said. "Multiple teams will want to sign him. But will that team have the right quarterback situation in front of him?"
The Jags have an established starting quarterback in Trevor Lawrence and, though at first glance that makes Jacksonville seem like an odd place to chase NFL dreams, it makes more sense when you accept that an NFL team won't give an undrafted rookie from the CFL a starting job, no matter how many records he's broken. (As Lalji put it, "It's not the old days, like Warren Moon.") This, then, is the next best thing: Rourke has some assurance that Jacksonville won't spend draft picks trying to develop some other QB. And the Jags offer Rourke the chance to share a QB room with a promising star and to learn from a big-brained, offensive-minded head coach.
For fans of the Lions, Rourke's likely departure from the CFL is sad news. But it doesn't have to be seen as a total loss for the CFL. As Jon Cornish, the retired CFL running back reminded me a few months ago, Rourke's story might show talented football players (both Canadian and American) that the CFL can be a rewarding place to play. "I think there's a lot of opportunity for football players across North America and internationally. If you want to play football, come check it out in Canada," he said. Among those potential rewards is a path to the NFL. But maybe they've already learned that lesson from Chris Streveler.