Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day played with Darian Durant and worked in the team’s front office when Chris Jones traded the beloved quarterback away.
O’Day felt pressure from green and white supporters as Durant left Regina to work to identify the future face of the franchise. Right before their eyes, Cody Fajardo emerged. The young QB captured the hearts of many in the prairie province and proved to football people he was capable of handling the demands put on starters in the three-down league.
“Saskatchewan’s been looking for a franchise guy since Darian. Everyone’s waiting for that next guy to come in and establish himself and provide that hope of having success for a long period of time,” O’Day said on the 3DownNation podcast.
“Cody really earned the contract as the season went on. As soon as he was playing well, there wasn’t a person in Saskatchewan when they saw me that didn’t tell me to get Cody signed. It wasn’t a secret that I was going to try to get him signed at some point.
The GM wanted to ensure his field general was comfortable discussing his contract during the season. That led to O’Day calling Fajardo into his Mosaic Stadium office for a face-to-face meeting. Fajardo admitted it was on his mind and let O’Day know he wanted to begin extension discussions.
“I hadn’t had an opportunity to talk to Cody about his contract, it’s not something you really talk to players about during the season,” O’Day said.
“But in this case with the position we were in and recognizing that we have our franchise guy, I wanted to bring him in and get inside his mind of exactly what he was thinking and make sure that the feeling was mutual.”
Fajardo’s agent and O’Day worked out an agreement in short order — about three weeks — and a two-year pact was signed. Fajardo earned a significant salary increase — potentially three times the 2019 amount — by inking the two-year contract extension.
“He’s shown enough that we feel confident moving forward and building this team around him. We did it quickly… I didn’t think it was a distraction at all and I think it actually gave him peace of mind through the stretch run that he was the guy, regardless of how he played at the end of the year,” head coach Craig Dickenson said.
It’s a substantial raise on what Fajardo was making in 2019. His one-year deal was a bargain, paying him $86,800 in hard money. However, incentives took it to the $150,000 range when all was said and done. For the first year of the new deal in 2020, Fajardo’s hard money total is $412,000. That bumps to $444,000 in year two.
“In this case you really rely on what you believe in and what you see with your eyes and your coaches that help with that process. You get a lot of input from the coaches and people that have worked with the players in the past,” O’Day said.
“Really just trusting what you believe in and watch the tape — we had a feeling about Cody as being an up-and-comer. One of those guys that hasn’t gotten the opportunity, not necessarily hasn’t earned it, but just hadn’t gotten the opportunity to play.”
The 27-year-old threw for a league-best 4,302 yards while completing over 71 per cent of his passes with 18 touchdowns against eight interceptions in his first season as a No. 1 QB. The dual-threat pivot used his legs for 611 yards and 10 touchdowns on 107 rushing attempts, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Fajardo was the West Division Most Outstanding Player and CFL all-star quarterback.
While Chris Jones was still in Regina, the Riders actually had trade talks with the B.C. Lions about potentially acquiring Fajardo. Saskatchewan was having short yardage concerns and wanted a reliable option for the role. There was never a swap but it’s worked out in the Riders favour nonetheless. After sprinkles of Jesus, Fajardo became the new face of the franchise, succeeding Durant.