Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke signs with Jacksonville Jaguars


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Nathan Rourke is now a Jacksonville Jaguar.

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Nathan Rourke is now a Jacksonville Jaguar.

The 24-year-old Victoria native signed a deal Sunday with Jacksonville, which was one of 12 teams the quarterback worked out for after finishing the 2022 CFL season with the B.C. Lions.

The others included: Cleveland, the New York Giants, Kansas City, Cincinnati, L.A. Chargers, Las Vegas, Minnesota, Denver, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Arizona.

“I want to apologize for keeping many of you in suspense but my corner and I wanted to make sure we did our due diligence and explored every option thoroughly,” Rourke said in his statement. “After much prayer and deliberation, I will be signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I am looking forward to getting to work with my new teammates and coaches.”

Rourke signed a standard rookie NFL deal that would carry annual salaries of US$750,000, $915,000 and $1.030 million, if completed.

The agreement reportedly includes some guaranteed money although it’s unclear just how much that is.

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

Rourke would appear to be heading to a good situation in Jacksonville, which rallied from a 27-0 deficit to earn a stunning 31-30 win over the Chargers in NFL wild-card playoff action Saturday night.

The Jaguars (9-8) finished the regular season on a roll with five straight wins, including a 20-16 decision over the Tennessee Titans to secure the top spot in the AFC South.

Sophomore Trevor Lawrence, the first player selected in the 2021 NFL draft, is firmly entrenched as Jacksonville’s starting QB.

Lawrence and the Jaguars (3-14) struggled mightily in 2021 under former head coach Urban Meyer, but both improved immensely this season under head coach Doug Pederson.

Pederson has been credited a lot for Lawrence’s improved play this year. A former NFL quarterback himself, Pederson won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018.

Former CFL quarterback Henry Burris is also an offensive quality control coach on Pederson’s staff in Jacksonville.

Ironically, Burris had become an offensive consultant with the Lions in March of 2022 but left the CFL club less than two weeks later to join the Jaguars.

Behind Lawrence is C.J. Beathard, in his sixth NFL season, and second with Jacksonville.

Beathard, a 2017 third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, has appeared in four games this season, completing 7-of-11 passes for 35 yards with an interception.

Over his NFL career, Beathard has completed 300-of-510 passes (58.8 per cent) for 3,537 yards with 18 TDs and 14 interceptions.

The Jaguars also have E.J. Perry, a rookie from Brown, on the practice roster.

Rourke’s busy workout schedule wasn’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 ’20 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.

The Lisfranc joint on the top of the foot is where bones, ligaments and tendons come together.

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.

“It has been an absolute joy to play for my home province in front of so many friends and family,” Rourke said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my CFL experience, playing the game that I love in front of my fellow Canadians has been truly special.

“The CFL has been an unforeseen detour on my football journey but a necessary one, and I am grateful to the Lions for allowing me to learn how to be a professional and grow on and off the field.

“Thank you to the entire BC Lions organization for giving me a chance to be your quarterback and thank you to the fans for making these past two seasons so memorable.”

Rourke’s departure is certainly a big one for both the CFL and Lions, but the B.C. club still has a veteran presence under centre.

B.C. acquired veteran Vernon Adams Jr. from Montreal following Rourke’s injury last season.

Adams won four of his six starts, completing 118-of-180 passes (65.6 per cent) for 1,504 yards with six TDs and one interception while rushing for 129 yards on 14 carries (9.2-yard average).

“I’m excited for the opportunity to continue working towards something special with a great group of coaches & players,” Adams tweeted Sunday in response to a fan. “Lions fans, I’m not Nate & what he did was amazing.

“But I got y’all! Let’s do this Together! LET’S GET IT.”

Antonio Pipkin, another former Alouettes starter, is also on the Lions roster.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2023.

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