McEvoy, Lions patiently awaiting Rourke’s decision as QB works out with NFL clubs

Neil McEvoy is of two minds when it comes to the football future of Nathan Rourke.

On one hand, he’s pleased to see a CFL player get opportunities to prove himself south of the border. But as the B.C. Lions co-general manager and director, football operations, McEvoy laments the prospect of not only losing a starting quarterback but a seemingly generational talent at the position.

“I’m excited for Nathan and football in Canada that the big dogs in the NFL are giving young men who usually haven’t had the same pedigree an opportunity to play football at the NFL level,” McEvoy said during a telephone interview from the CFL winter meetings in Kananaskis, Alta. “As an administrator with the B.C. Lions, obviously I’d love to have him stay and continue to build off of what he brought, but at the end of the day we may not be able to do that.

“We have contingency plans and we’re comfortable with whatever direction he decides to take.”

Rourke worked out Wednesday for the Cleveland Browns, the 12th team he’s visited this off-season. The others include the New York Giants, Kansas City, Cincinnati, L.A. Chargers, Las Vegas, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Denver, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Arizona.

The six-foot-two, 209-pound Rourke still has a year left on his CFL deal. On Monday, he became eligible to sign a futures deal south of the border as per the league’s NFL window.

Rourke’s busy workout schedule isn’t surprising. Following the Lions’ season, he said his plan was to work out for NFL officials and explore interest down south.

Rourke was bypassed in the 2021 NFL draft after his college career at Ohio. He then signed with B.C., which took Rourke in the second round, 15th overall, of the 2021 CFL draft.

Rourke served as veteran Michael Reilly’s backup his first season with B.C., but got plenty of first-team practice reps as Reilly nursed a season-long elbow ailment. After making two starts as a rookie, Rourke took the CFL by storm in 2022.

He threw for over 300 yards six times (including three 400-yard performances) in staking B.C. to an 8-1 record. But Rourke’s season was cut short by a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot that required surgery.

Rourke returned for B.C.’s regular-season finale as the Lions (12-6) finished second in the West. Rourke led B.C. past Calgary 30-16 in the division semifinal, completing 22-of-30 passes for 321 yard and two TDs.

B.C.’s season ended with a 28-20 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West final. Rourke finished 20-of-37 passes for 300 yards with a TD and two interceptions while rushing twice for 20 yards.

In 10 regular-season starts, Rourke completed 255-of-324 passes (league-high 78.7 per cent) for 3,349 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 304 yards and seven TDs in being named the CFL’s top Canadian.

McEvoy said while B.C. knew it drafted a good player in Rourke, he exceeded the organization’s expectations.

“We felt Nathan would be able to compete at the highest level,” McEvoy said. “But obviously he took that to the next step and brought us to another level.

“Now the expectations are to be at that level and that’s exactly what we wanted and exactly what we got.”

Off the field, Rourke patiently answered questions regarding the historical significance of being a Canadian quarterback and readily accepted being the face of the Lions’ franchise.

“He’s mature beyond his age, there’s no doubt,” McEvoy said. “He says and does all the right things and plays at a high level.

“If you were to take your CFL cap off you’d say that’s what NFL players and quarterbacks are made of.”

Should Rourke sign an NFL deal, McEvoy said the Lions’ remain solid at quarterback with veterans Vernon Adams Jr. and Antonio Pipkin. B.C. acquired Adams from Montreal following Rourke’s injury and he won four-of-six starts, completing 118-of-180 passes (65.6 per cent) for 1,504 yards with six TDs and one interception.

Adams also ran for 129 yards on 14 carries (9.2-yard average).

“We’re excited about Vernon,” McEvoy said. “I think Vernon having a full training camp with our offensive staff will help him immensely.

“Whatever direction we move forward in, we have what we believe will be a competitive football team.”

B.C. also has a hole to fill at receiver with the retirement of veteran Bryan Burnham, a three-time CFL all-star who had four 1,000-yard seasons. The six-foot-two, 210-pound Burnham was limited to nine games last year while dealing with two separate injuries

“Unfortunately for Bryan, he got hurt twice last year so we sort of had a sneak peak of what it was going to be like without him playing as a B.C. Lion,” McEvoy said. “But Bryan is such an amazing person off the field that we’re really going to have to find ways to fill that void, which is going to be difficult.”

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