Jeff Samardzija felt the weight of the franchise on his broad shoulders from the moment he signed that big contract. So while there may be some symbolism and extra adrenaline on Opening Day, he’s always internalized that pressure.

When Samardzija decided to focus on baseball and give up his NFL dreams, he promised himself that there would be no turning back, no wondering what could have been. This is exactly what the Cubs envisioned, a potential No. 1 starter beginning the 200-inning journey with Monday’s matinee against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

It’s just that one of Jim Hendry’s “high-character guys” has become a billboard for Theo Epstein’s “foundation for sustained success.”

There are no regrets, and apologize is probably too strong a word. But Samardzija did reach out to Hendry after the general manager was fired, saying how he wished he could have developed faster and become the difference-maker the Cubs needed -- and who knows what that would have meant for the organization.

“You’re the ones playing and you’re the ones responsible for the coaches and the front-office people’s jobs,” Samardzija said. “I definitely take it personally and I definitely felt like they had committed a lot to me and put a lot on me to do well. It wasn’t that I apologized to him. It’s just that I love and appreciated what he did for me.

“It was just the fact that I thought I could have done more, especially there in those middle years. Obviously, it didn’t go as planned, with up-and-down and starting and relieving. But excuses are excuses. I felt like I owed a lot (and) I just didn’t feel like I returned it totally back to him. It ended up being a year late.”

The Boston Red Sox weren’t interested when Samardzija’s name came up during the Epstein compensation talks in the fall of 2011. The new president of baseball operations wisely listened when Samardzija lobbied to start during a meeting on the same day manager Dale Sveum had his introductory press conference at Wrigley Field.