When the Saskatchewan Roughriders went into the 2019 season, their quarterback room was headlined by Zach Collaros and a pair of guys no one really ever talked about as starting calibre players. Cody Fajardo and Isaac Harker were afterthoughts, and many people assumed that going to them at any point would be a death sentence for the team.
On the opening drive of the first game of the 2019 season, Collaros was hit high by Simoni Lawrence of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and left the game with what was called a head injury. Without having attempted a single pass, Collaros had played his final down with the Roughriders, but much had to happen before the team would feel comfortable with moving on from him.
After the hit, Fajardo came into the game having little starting experience. He had done nothing much more than being the short-yardage specialist for both the Toronto Argonauts and the BC Lions, the same role the Roughriders were hoping to have him in when they brought him in. Little did they know, this short-yardage specialist would bloom into one of the biggest superstars in Saskatchewan in recent memory.
In that 2019 season, Fajardo erupted into a superstar in Saskatchewan, finishing the season leading the league in passing yards with 4,302 and a touchdown to interception ratio of 18 to eight. He would also get things done with his legs, racking up 611 yards and an additional 10 touchdowns. These efforts earned him a hefty new contract that would lock him up until the end of the 2022 season.
According to a report by Justin Dunk and 3 Down Nation, Fajardo’s new deal came with a salary of $512,000 in hard money. Coming into the 2021 season, Fajardo was one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the CFL, but things didn’t click for him as they did in 2019.
In the 2021 season, Fajardo went from averaging 9.1 yards per attempt in 2019 to just 7.4 yards. His touchdown to interception ratio closed to 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and overall, he and his team struggled to push the ball down the field. To his credit, they did just enough to win and get the Riders to the West Final where they nearly upset the mighty Blue Bombers.
Despite some of his struggles, they haven’t all been his fault. The offensive line has been prone to breakdowns and there have been a fair amount of drops this season. The question now becomes what should the Roughriders do with their half-million-dollar man? The answer today should be to hold onto their young star and build a better team around him.
Going into the offseason, the Roughriders have an extensive list of potential free agents including Duke Williams, William Powell, Evan Johnson, A.C. Leonard, and Ed Gainey. The offseason is going to be complicated as is for the green and white, and adding a search for a new quarterback right now would be short-sighted and dangerous for the future of their franchise.
For all of his struggles, Fajardo has proven to be if nothing else an above-average quarterback at the absolute worst. On top of all that, he has endeared himself to Riders’ fans and has become an embodiment of what it means to be a Roughrider.
“It’s tough to say now because you lose the last game of the year, it’s a tough feeling,” said Fajardo. “But to tell you the truth, I’m in my second year as starting quarterback and I’ve been to two Western Finals. I’m very proud of that, very proud of being a 10-win team in back-to-back years.”
“(There’s) still so much learning curve for me and I think I can be so much better. But at the end of the day, finding ways to win in professional football is hard to do and I can’t do it without the teammates that I have and the coaches that we have here. But extremely proud of what we put out on the field with all the adversity we had. I’m just blessed to be a part of this organization, blessed to be playing football.”
Although Fajardo and the Roughriders have fallen short in back-to-back seasons against their biggest nemesis, he has been known to wear his heart on his sleeve. Yes, there have been times when he has stepped over the line with things he has said, but fans have grown to love their honest quarterback.
“There’s been a lot of hard times in my life throughout my football career and I just go out there and just give it everything I have I lay it on the line,” Fajardo said. “I know I’m probably not the most talented guy when it comes to being a quarterback and things just come to me, but I wouldn’t want to play for any other team, any other organization.”
“It was a very tough six years for me in the CFL and professional football, no one really gave me a chance,” said Fajardo referring to the time where he served as a backup for the BC Lions and Toronto Argonauts. “J.O. [Jeremy O’Day] was the first person to give me a chance and I just work hard every day and want to do everything I can to bring this team a Grey Cup because I know they deserve it.”
We haven’t seen a whole lot of Fajardo in the CFL just yet, and it’s still possible that he won’t be the guy who wins the Roughriders that Grey Cup they have been chasing for some time, but there isn’t a better option to lead the Roughriders into 2022.