When it came time for Shawn Burke to make his first major move as a CFL general manager, he looked to a familiar face.
The Ottawa Redblacks made a huge splash Monday night, signing veteran American quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to a two-year deal. Masoli was poised to become a CFL free agent Tuesday, but was available to sign with Ottawa after being released Friday night by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Before being hired as Ottawa's GM in December, Burke spent 15 years with the Ticats. Masoli, meanwhile, played the last eight seasons in Hamilton.
"Jeremiah and I have worked together for a long time and there's just an ability to know what he's going to bring," Burke said during a video conference Tuesday morning. "It's not just about his talent on the football field, it's about his work ethic, his quiet leadership and his passion and drive for the game.
"We never talked to another quarterback in the process. We obviously had backup plans just in case but we had our target. We knew the guy we wanted."
Masoli, 33, went to three Grey Cups with Hamilton (2014, 2019, 2021). He was the East Division's outstanding player in 2018 and presents a dual threat to opposing defences.
Burke has been tasked with rebuilding a franchise that finished last in the East Division standings last year with a 3-11 record. The Redblacks were also last in several CFL offensive categories.
Masoli said his familiarity with Burke made the decision to sign with Ottawa an easy one.
"I already knew Burkie from Hamilton and everything just fell into place," Masoli said. "And then somebody like coach (Paul) LaPolice made it very easy.
"At the end of the day I was just super-comfortable being able to talk with (LaPolice). To me, it was just the right fit. I'm here to win and I want to win with these guys."
LaPolice said having a veteran quarterback under centre can only help an offence.
"(Masoli) is somebody who has the ability to lead a team and put points on the board," LaPolice said. "Whether it's with his legs at times, whether it's throwing accurate passes from screen passes (to) getting the ball downfield.
"He's just been a productive football player. We want to surround him with guys and let him lead and put our team in position to win."
Burke has no concerns regarding how Masoli will fit into Ottawa's quarterback room with youngsters Caleb Evans and Devlin Hodges. Burke saw first-hand in Hamilton how Masoli took a young Evans under his wing.
"He doesn't see (young players) as threats," Burke said. "I know who Jeremiah is as a person and how comfortable he is in his own skin.
"They (young Redblacks quarterbacks) got thrown into the fire (in 2021) and I think having a guy like Jeremiah around, it could slow everything down and let them learn behind him and learn from his process."
The opening of the CFL's negotiation window last month gave Burke an opportunity to speak with many pending free agents, including Masoli. And he figures the acquisition of Masoli will only help the Redblacks in free agency.
"Jeremiah's credibility across the league as a football player with his colleagues is second to none," Burke said. "You're not going to get every guy you talk to … but when we got this commitment, it let us go into overdrive on a couple of things to get things shored up and go from there."
Burke promised more moves.
"I expect us to be active," he said. "We have the ability to be active, we have certain areas that we want to target on our team.
"We've been aggressive with that … that's our focus and we'll see what happens at the end of the day."
Burke made a commitment Tuesday to protect his quarterback, signing offensive linemen Hunter Steward, Darius Ciraco and Ucambre Williams. Steward and Ciraco are Canadian.
Williams spent his first five CFL seasons with Calgary, appearing in 63 career regular-season games. Steward, 30, is a seven-season CFL veteran who has spent his entire career with the B.C. Lions.
Ciraco, 25, played the previous three seasons with Hamilton.
Ottawa's first move was signing American defensive lineman Davon Coleman to a one-year extension. The six-foot-one, 282-pound Coleman had 32 tackles and four sacks with the Redblacks last season.
The Redblacks then added veteran running back William Powell, receiver Darvin Adams, Canadian defensive linemen Kwaku Boateng and Lorenzo Mauldin IV, and defensive back Ty Cranston, also a Canadian.
Powell, 33, began his CFL career with the Redblacks (2015-18) before spending the last two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He ran 168 times for 733 yards (4.4-yard average) and three touchdowns in 2021, breaking a streak of three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, including a career-high 1,362 yards in 2018.
The six-foot-two, 257-pound Boateng registered 25 sacks in four seasons with the Edmonton Elks, including a career-best nine sacks in 2018.
Maudlin, a former third-round pick of the NFL’s New York Jets, spent the last two seasons with Hamilton. He registered 13 tackles, 12 special-teams tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble in 17 regular-season CFL games.
Cranston, 27, spent the last three seasons with the Montreal Alouettes. He recorded 38 tackles, 24 special-teams tackles and an interception in 34 regular-season CFL games.
Adams spent the last six seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after starting his CFL career with Toronto (2013-14). In 91 career CFL regular-season games, he has 343 catches for 4,928 yards and 40 TDs.
The Redblacks also signed running back Jackson Bennett and receiver Llevi Noel, both Canadians.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press