FA Most Wanted: A QB with something to prove
TORONTO — By his most recent measurements Cody Fajardo stood at six-foot-two and a solid 223 pounds.
The numbers may be different this year, considering how last year went.
The 2022 season was Fajardo’s most trying in his three as the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ starting quarterback. There was the pressure that comes with leading a team that’s hosting the Grey Cup game. There was the pressure that comes from playing in a contract year. Then there’s the actual on-field pressure that came from opposing defensive linemen. When Fajardo took the field for the 17 games he played in 2022, that pressure seemed as rough and unrelenting as any January/February wind that blows across the province.
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Fajardo wasn’t on the field for all 77 of the sacks that the Riders’ offensive line allowed in 2022, but he endured the majority of them. As the Riders’ 4-1 start morphed to a 2-11 finish, he lost his starting role leading into the team’s make-or-break, season-on-the-line game against Calgary in Week 20. The season ended a disappointment and Fajardo is a pending free agent with some uncertainty in front of him.
Wherever Fajardo plays this year, we expect the height to be the same. Those shoulders? They might have their share of chips in them.
The 2022 season stands as the great divide in Fajardo’s resume as a starter.
He burst onto the Green and White scene in 2019, when then-starter Zach Collaros went down with a Week 1 injury (setting his own winding, career-changing journey in motion). Fajardo quickly showed he was a big-armed, light-footed jolt of offence. He went on to post a league-best 4,302 passing yards with 18 touchdowns and rushed for 611 yards and 10 more TDs. The Riders lost a heartbreaker of a Western Final to Winnipeg at Mosaic Stadium and essentially went through the same in the 2021 season, falling to the Bombers in the Western Final at IG Field.
A look at the Riders’ 2022 offensive stats is essentially a run through the bottom of the data that tracks the info. To hit a few key areas, their 19.8 offensive points per game was eighth in the league, as was their 32 offensive touchdowns. They were last in net offence (302.6 yards per game), last in average yards per play (5.6) and last in first down yardage (5.5).
Keep in mind the 77 sacks allowed and the impact that continued pressure from defences has on offensive productivity. Consider that Fajardo still finished fifth in the league in passing with 3,360 yards and that his 70.3 per cent completion rate was fourth amongst starters last season. His 16 touchdowns were out of the range of the league-leading Collaros’ 37 and Nathan Rourke (25), McLeod Bethel-Thompson (23) and Trevor Harris (20). His 13 interceptions were three off of Dane Evans‘ league-worst 16, putting him in company with MBT (15), Nick Arbuckle (14) and Collaros (13).
The options for a starting QB in the open market could be limited for Fajardo. Montreal could take a look at him and depending on what Bethel-Thompson decides to do with his future, the Toronto Argonauts — where Fajardo first landed in the CFL in 2016 — could become an option.
Wherever he lands, expect the 30-year-old to come into the job with plenty to prove. Behind a good offensive line, Fajardo twice led his team to the doorstep of the Grey Cup game. If he can stay healthy and play in a system that fits him, he might be able to play at that high level for a number of years and maybe fill in some of the chips that accumulated on his shoulders over the past year.