Saskatchewan wanted to sign current Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
Gilbert was added to the Riders’ exclusive negotiation list on May 25, 2016, the day after he was waived by the Oakland Raiders. He was a free agent for the rest of the year.
During Week 4 of the 2016 CFL season, Darian Durant suffered a severe ankle sprain in a loss to the B.C. Lions. While Durant was injured and Saskatchewan was looking for depth at the pivot position, Gilbert traveled to Regina for a workout at the old Mosaic Stadium.
Then-head coach and general manager Chris Jones and his entire coaching staff took it in. The Riders’ talent evaluators were impressed with his quick release and how Gilbert knew where to go with the football even though he was new to throwing on a Canadian field.
After flying in Sunday, undergoing a physical Monday, and being put through an on-field session, Gilbert went back home and let the Riders know he was receiving too much NFL interest at the time and wanted to pursue those possible opportunities.
The Raiders and Panthers were the main two teams who expressed interest and Gilbert spent the 2017 season in Carolina but was waived after training camp in 2018. Following Cam Newton and Tyler Heinicke being shut down for the season, Gilbert was brought back last December and made his NFL debut completing two-of-three passes for 40 yards. However, the Panthers severed ties again on December 31.
By that point, the Alliance of American Football had already held its quarterback draft and the Orlando Apollos selected Gilbert with their first-round pick. Gilbert passed for a league-best 2,152 yards to go with 13 touchdowns against three interceptions while completing over 60 percent of his passes in Steve Spurrier’s offence.
Spurrier employed a spread attack that offered a glimpse into Gilbert’s ability to run a CFL-style offence. Going back to his NCAA playing days at Southern Methodist University where June Jones was his head coach, Gilbert was successful at directing the run and shoot, including a senior season in 2013 in which he threw for 3,528 yards, 21 touchdowns against seven interceptions with a 66.5 percent completion rate in 10 games. He added 267 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 83 carries.
Saskatchewan dropped Gilbert when the AAF became a reality, and after an impressive showing in the now-defunct league, Gilbert was signed by the Cleveland Browns. He spent the 2019 season on the active roster as a backup behind former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield.
Coming out of training camp in 2020, Gilbert was added to the Browns’ practice squad. Dallas was searching for quarterbacks following the gruesome injury to Dak Prescott that ended his 2020 season, and the Cowboys grabbed Gilbert and put him on their active roster.
Andy Dalton suffered a concussion in Week 7, which caused him to miss Week 8. Rookie Ben DiNucci started in a loss to Philadelphia but was benched after owner and general manager Jerry Jones was critical of his play.
That led to the Cowboys turning to Gilbert for Week 9 against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. Gilbert completed 21-of-38 passes (55.2 percent) for 243 yards with one touchdown and one interception while rushing three times for 28 yards in a 24-19 loss during his first career NFL start.
If Gilbert had signed with the Riders in 2016, perhaps he’d be the face of the franchise — not Cody Fajardo — instead of starting for the Cowboys.