OTTAWA — Henry Burris couldn’t pass up the chance to help build a franchise from the ground up.
The veteran quarterback signed a three-year contract with the expansion Ottawa Redblacks on Tuesday, just six days after getting released by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“The opportunity to be a part of something fresh and new was something that my family and I just couldn’t turn down,” Burris said after being introduced to the media.
“We had to be a part of this. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to leave your fingerprints, your footprint on a growing organization that will be around for years and years to come.
“To know that we were a part of what started this, that’s a great way as far as your legacy to leave a print.”
The move ends a whirlwind week for Burris, who was released by the Tiger-Cats after the club signed Zach Collaros to be their starting quarterback.
The 38-year-old — who was cut by Hamilton despite leading them to last season’s Grey Cup game — should provide immediate stability and leadership for the expansion Redblacks as the CFL returns to the nation’s capital this season.
“I really don’t look at this as an expansion team,” said Burris.
“Last season in Hamilton we had the youngest team in the league on both sides of the ball and I was changing (diapers) day in and day out. I expect some of the same challenges (in Ottawa).
“As we’ve seen in this league it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and that gives you plenty of time to overcome your growing pains and to make your mistakes early on.”
Ottawa will be Burris’ fourth CFL team after stops with the Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and the Tiger-Cats. He won two Grey Cups during his time with the Stampeders and was named the game’s MVP in 2008.
Burris led the Tiger-Cats to last season’s Grey Cup, where Hamilton fell 45-23 to Saskatchewan. He was tops in the league with 4,925 passing yards in 2013 to go along with 24 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
In 15 CFL seasons, the native of Spiro, Oklahoma, ranks fourth all-time in regular-season passing yards (51,529), touchdown passes (324) and completions (3,672).
After getting his walking papers from the Tiger-Cats, Burris was immediately approached by the Redblacks and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Both teams offered enticing opportunities, but apart from getting a chance to set the standard with a new team, Ottawa offered Burris something Winnipeg couldn’t — the opportunity to play in front of his family.
Knowing this would be his final contract, Burris said he has a number of relatives in Springfield, Mass., who are already looking forward to making the trip to Ottawa to see him in action.
“To be close enough to family where they can actually come and spend time with our family and get to know our children and also see this guy that used to be called little Henry now playing football and living out his dream playing professional football,” he said. “We have family that live about five hours away from here and trust me they’re all excited because now we’re playing at home for them.”
The Redblacks currently have three quarterbacks under contract that started CFL games last season. Ottawa acquired 34-year-old Kevin Glenn and Thomas Demarco through the expansion draft, and also has Matt Faulkner on its roster.
It was widely believed that Glenn, who split time under centre with the Stampeders in 2013 and finished with 2,710 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions, would be Ottawa’s starter.
But any question as to who would lead the team into training camp was answered when Ottawa general manager Marcel Desjardins introduced Burris as the “new starting quarterback for the Redblacks.”
“Kevin is a great friend of mine and it was definitely tough making that decision, especially knowing that he was going to be here,” said Burris. “But this is a business and for me this is my last go-around and Kevin he’s got a lot more go-around’s left in him.”
Desjardins said the plan right now is to head to camp with all three quarterbacks.
“For us to have three quarterbacks who have started and played a lot of games in this league is a benefit to our organization,” said Desjardins. “It’s not to say teams won’t reach out to us and we won’t reach out to teams, but when we decided to make this signing we decided that if we go to camp with these three guys we’re probably in as good a position as anybody in the league at quarterback.”
Desjardins added that he hopes the signing of Burris will show other players that the organization is serious about being a contender right from the start.
The Redblacks are the CFL’s third attempt at a franchise in Ottawa. The Rough Riders folded in 1996 after 120 years of operation. The expansion Renegades began play in 2002, but folded after just four seasons.
Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell said he looks forward to having someone with Burris’ experience join the team.
“When we step on the practice field for the first time we’re not going to feel like an expansion team having players like Henry and others who have won a lot of football games,” said Campbell. “That’s going to help bring us on a lot faster.”
Burris will be 39 by the time the team takes to the field for the regular season, but Campbell said he sees no reason for concern.
“I had to compete against him as a defensive co-ordinator this last year (with Calgary) and I thought physically he looked as good he’s ever looked. His arm is live and he’s running around and doing all those things. If you didn’t know his age you wouldn’t say that he’s slowing down at all.”
Note: The CFL announced Tuesday that free agency will begin on Feb. 11 instead of Feb. 15.