Isaac Harker has ‘slim lead’ in Riders backup quarterback competition

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

There’s a hotly contested competition behind franchise quarterback Cody Fajardo to be his backup in Saskatchewan.

Wonderlic genius Isaac Harker is in front after one full week of training camp. Former first-round NFL pick Paxton Lynch, brother of Super Bowl champion QB Tom Flacco, and the smallest but most productive NCAA passer of the group, Mason Fine, are trying to earn roster spots and unseat Harker in the process.

“I would say Harker right now has a slim lead on the others just because of his experience,” head coach Craig Dickenson said.

Harker dressed for all 18 regular season games as a rookie in 2019. He started in Week 21, completing 23-of-28 passes for 213 yards in a 23-13 win to help the Roughriders earn first place in the West Division with a 13-5 record. Overall, the 25-year-old connected on 66 percent of his passes for 467 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions last season.

“The reality is a guy like Harker has a leg up on the competition. He knows the system, he knows the CFL rules, and he knows how the game operates in terms of the play clock and what have you,” Dickenson said.

Harker is entering the last season of his three-year CFL rookie contract. He’s scheduled to earn $65,000 in base salary plus $3,000 in housing. However, there were no off-season roster or report and pass bonuses in his pact, which means the Riders could move on without any financial impact on the salary cap.

Dickenson doesn’t have a quarterback depth chart one through five, however, it’s certain Fajardo will be the starter when the Riders kick-off the season on August 6 against the B.C. Lions. Who will be dressed and holding the clipboard remains to be seen.

“This next week we gotta throw some reps at these guys and try to get all the quarterbacks equal opportunities to try to prove that they belong in that spot, and hopefully we’ll do the same thing in the green and white game,” Dickenson said.

“It’s difficult, that’s the balancing act as a coach. You want to try to get your quarterbacks a number of reps so you can see what they can do with the offence, but at the same time you have to look after the legs of everyone else.”

The 49-year-old Dickenson has stated the decision on which quarterbacks the green and white will keep is largely based on the expert opinion of offensive coordinator Jason Maas. As the Riders focus on preparing Fajardo for game action — receiving 350 reps to 120 split between the rest of the signal callers in the first week — the other four passers have limited chances to impress.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.