October 31, 2022

Steinberg’s MMQB: A question for each non-playoff team

The Canadian Press

While the playoffs were already set heading into week 21, it didn’t feel right wrapping up the years for Edmonton, Saskatchewan and Ottawa until they had played all their games. Now that the regular season is done, we can start to look ahead to the off-season for 2022’s non-playoff squads. I’ve got one question for each of them.

Saskatchewan Roughriders: What happens at quarterback?

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say Saskatchewan’s quarterback situation is going to be the CFL’s biggest story this winter. Playing in the league’s most passionate market, the Riders missed the playoffs for the first time in five years and demoted their star quarterback, who just happened to be the West Division Most Outstanding Player two seasons ago. This is going to be a big deal.

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The Roughriders turned to Mason Fine (right) for their final two games of the regular season, demoting starter Cody Fajardo (right) (The Canadian Press)

That star quarterback is Cody Fajardo. He was sat down in favour of Mason Fine in Saskatchewan’s final two games, which leaves Fajardo’s future with the team murky at best. As the Roughriders cleaned out their lockers Sunday, Fajardo was clearly hurt by the decision but wasn’t ruling out a return to Regina.

“I gave everything I had,” Fajardo admitted on Sunday. “The way the season played out was a little sickening for me, a little frustrating. After giving everything I had for three years, I just felt like the organization kind of just moved on from me. For me that was a little emotional.

“I’m not ruling anything out and I would love to play another game in the Green and White. But that’s not up to me, that’s up to management. We’ll see how this off-season goes.”

Fajardo is set to become a free agent in February and there’s obviously a large chance the two sides end up parting ways. Prior to this season’s disappointing end, Saskatchewan had been relatively successful with Fajardo at the helm, appearing in the last two Western Finals. But at this position, and in that market, things can change very quickly.

Ottawa REDBLACKS: Who’s the head coach next year?

After a run of three Grey Cup appearances in four years, Ottawa has now missed the playoffs for a third straight season. And, as part of their 4-14 campaign, the REDBLACKS dismissed head coach Paul LaPolice with four games remaining, replacing him with Bob Dyce on an interim basis. After winning his first game in his new position, Dyce and Ottawa wrapped up 2022 with three straight losses.

What happens next is going to be fascinating. On the one hand, Dyce has paid his dues with the REDBLACKS as a Day 1 member of the coaching staff. He’s extremely well-respected around the league and has head coaching experience going back to 2015 in Saskatchewan. If he were to be elevated to the role full time, it would be very much deserved.

Conversely, this will be Shawn Burke’s first head coaching hire since being installed as general manager just under a year ago. Burke, who inherited LaPolice for this season, has the chance to hire his guy for the first time. There’s plenty of reason to think Dyce may be that guy, but you can never quite be sure in these situations.

Edmonton Elks: Do they get the Chris Jones Year 2 bump?

Year 2 has been better than Year 1 in both of Chris Jones’ prior CFL head coaching jobs. In his first stint with Edmonton, he turned a 12-6 playoff team in 2014 into a 14-4 Grey Cup champion one year later. Then in Saskatchewan, Jones went 5-13 before rebounding with a 10-8 campaign in 2017. Elks fans are hoping history repeats itself one more time.

It was a tough year in Edmonton, as the team struggled to an 0-9 record at Commonwealth Stadium, marking the second straight season without a home win. Now, in fairness, Jones inherited a mess coming off the nightmare that was 2021, so an instant fix was an unrealistic ask. But as this new era of Elks football continues, they’ll be looking for a big step next year.

It wasn’t all bad for Edmonton in 2022. Despite only appearing in 12 games, receiver Kenny Lawler had a great first year with the Elks and cemented his status as one of the league’s elite receivers. And lineman Jake Ceresna had a dominant year in the interior, recording ten sacks in his 12 appearances. Both are set to be free agents in a few months.

Quick hits

The BC Lions will hope that Nathan Rourke‘s return to action shook some of the rust off for him, ahead of what they’re hoping is a long playoff run (The Canadian Press)

Nathan Rourke didn’t look outstanding or spectacular in his Lions return on Friday, but that didn’t matter. It was the fact he played, threw 11 passes, and got some reps in before this weekend’s Western Semi-Final that was important. Even a few snaps at game speed are better than none and so for that reason, BC’s 24-9 loss in Winnipeg was a success.

Seeing fans in Calgary giving Bo Levi Mitchell a standing ovation in the fourth quarter of a 36-10 win over Saskatchewan was awesome to see. Mitchell took a few snaps late in the game, and those could very likely be his last as a member of the Stampeders. The face of the franchise over the last decade, and Calgary’s all-time passing leader, deserved a proper send-off.

“It meant a lot to me,” Mitchell reflected after the game. “It was awesome to be able to have that moment with the fans and my teammates.

“It’s bittersweet. Obviously, I would have loved for it to be under different circumstances, but either way, I’ve loved every second I’ve been here and hopefully we can bring a Grey Cup back to the city before I leave.”

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