The B.C Lions gave Travis Lulay's career a lifeline in 2009, taking a chance on a quarterback who had bounced around the NFL when it seemed few other teams were interested.
Now a star in the CFL, Lulay rewarded the Lions for their loyalty on Thursday by signing a new three-year contract with the club.
"I was on my last legs as a pro, and if I didn't make team in that training camp in '09, I probably would have been done at that point in time," Lulay said. "To have been given the opportunity at that point in time, I'm forever grateful to Wally [Buono, the team's general manager and former coach] for just getting me on the field.
"I believed that I could play as long as someone would agree with me."
The deal, announced at a morning news conference at a downtown Vancouver hotel, helps avoid a potentially difficult situation as the Lions start to gear up for the 2013 season. As a rule, Buono does not let players in key positions play out the option year of their contracts.
Lulay risked being traded if he chose not to sign. But he said it was easy to agree to the new contract, which includes two years plus an option.
The 29-year-old Oregon native put a long-term deal on hold last year in case he wanted to pursue NFL options. He joined the Lions after a second unsuccessful stint with the Seattle Seahawks and another with the New Orleans Saints between 2006 and 2009 after completing his collegiate career at Montana State.
"This is home now," Lulay said.
He decided to stick with B.C. after guiding the Lions to a 13-5 record in the regular season. In addition to increased financial security, the chance to contend for another championship — rather than face the possibility of carrying a clipboard in an era when NFL clubs have favoured young quarterbacks — greatly appealed to him.
He was with the club when it struggled in 2009 and 2010, the year he replaced Casey Printers as starter after the former CFL outstanding player was released for throwing his helmet on the ground in a temper tantrum.
Lulay believes the Lions have a great chance to continue the success they have had the past two seasons, and he did not want to miss it.
"You don't want to look back and have what ifs," Lulay said. "I can comfortably say that I won't at this point in time. I know that this is a decision that's right for me and my family, and I'm really excited about it.
"My decisions don't just affect me anymore. It's obviously about my wife and my [baby] daughter at this point in time."
Lulay threw for 4,231 yards and 27 touchdowns on 346 completions in 2012 while earning a second consecutive spot on the West Division All-Star squad.
In 2011, he guided the Lions to a Grey Cup title and was named the CFL's most outstanding player as well as the MVP in the championship game. He is looking forward to the chance to get back to the title game.
"It's much easier to commit to an organization that you truly believe has a chance to win a championship year in and year out," he said. "That's the expectation around here."
Lulay was hampered by an injury to his throwing shoulder late in the 2012 season. But he indicated there is little trouble with it now, and he feels as healthy as he ever has in January after a punishing season.
Earlier this week, he was at the team's Surrey, B.C., training facility pushing a heavy truck tire around on snow with teammates Rolly Lumbala and Shawn Gore as part of their off-season training regimen.
"Knowing that we're going to have Travis Lulay behind centre gives us a tremendous chance to win, a tremendous chance to stay consistent, compete, find a way to get better and play at a high level," said coach Mike Benevides.
"This is an elite person. It's an elite quarterback. It's a guy who knows how to win, has a tremendous work ethic and is a kind of guy that I want leading our team."
Reilly unlikely to return
Typically, the quarterback is the highest-paid player on a team. Financial terms of Lulay's contract were not disclosed, but Buono said Lulay's deal will not prevent him from signing other key players.
Still, backup quarterback Mike Reilly, who has played out his option, appears unlikely to re-sign. Reilly has made it known he wants to be a CFL starter, and Buono expects him to pursue free-agent options.
Reilly is expected to receive strong interest from other clubs. The Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, among others, have needs at quarterback, and Reilly worked out for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars this winter.
"I knew that if [the club re-signed Lulay], then [Reilly] would probably have a harder look at free agency," said Buono. "For Mike's sake, if I was his agent, I would probably recommend that.
"If you're honest, Mike wants to be in a position where he's going to be given a chance to start."
Buono praised Lulay's truck-pushing efforts and his desire to remain a Lion. The GM believes "the best is yet to come" from his starting quarterback.
Lulay questioned Buono's claim that this contract will likely be the last of his career, but is prepared to stay with Lions for the long-term.
"There's so much uncertainty in sport," said Lulay. "You [media] guys understand that. But if I were to be here for the rest of my career, I'd be a happy guy."