Keeping Paxton Lynch a risky proposition for Roughriders

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Saskatchewan Roughriders choice of backup quarterback isn’t as simple as choosing the best player.

It’s not even as easy as deciding who’s earned it or who has the most potential to get better.

The feelings of the franchise quarterback, Cody Fajardo, are equally as important, if not more, than any of those factors.

Last season’s West Division nominee for Most Outstanding Player has built a rapport with his backup from 2019, Isaac Harker. The two not only came up in Saskatchewan together — out of nowhere — they have also hosted a full season of their wildly popular podcast, The Rouge Report.

Over the past year, the two have bonded through COVID-19 times in ways most teammates couldn’t.

It would be difficult to imagine a scenario where Fajardo would be happy without Harker as his understudy. And it would be even more challenging to envision a scenario where Fajardo would be happy with Paxton Lynch backing him up, either.

In keeping Lynch around, the Riders’ biggest star and most important on-field asset would face the reality of having someone who’s gained a lot of attention, from a multi-million-dollar NFL resume, looking over his shoulder.

It’s been said the backup quarterback is always the most popular player in Saskatchewan. That hasn’t always been true but star quarterbacks such as Ronnie Lancaster, Kent Austin, Kerry Joseph and — even more recently — Darian Durant, have taken their share of abuse and calls for ‘whoever’s on the bench’ whenever things haven’t gone their way.

This could create an unnecessarily difficult environment for the Roughriders and their leader.

Rider fans know all too well the perils of not listening to their quarterback’s wishes. Henry Burris left through free agency prior to the 2005 season reportedly due in part to the insistence of then-general manager Roy Shivers to keep Nealon Greene around to compete with Smilin’ Hank for the starting QB job.

All then-Stamps’ GM Jim Barker had to do was promise to release Khari Jones from Calgary’s roster and it was a done deal. Saskatchewan would wake up one morning to the front page of the Regina Leader-Post with Burris donning a cowboy hat, Stampeder jersey and the headline: ‘HE’S GONE!’

It was a crippling blow to Shivers, then-head coach Danny Barrett, the Riders and the province of Saskatchewan who had already lost so much to Calgary in the 1990s — economically and on the football field.

The Roughriders would suffer through another couple of tumultuous seasons before the GM, head coach and Greene would all be gone from Riderville, too.

Lesson learned: ignoring your franchise quarterback’s feelings are never a good idea.

This situation is certainly different. Fajardo is NOT a free agent and has never expressed a preference to Rider management, that we know of, for who he gets to work with in the quarterback film room.

But he shouldn’t have to do so.

Fajardo is the franchise quarterback and the Riders resident rockstar.

And these days, as it did in 2005, that matters a whole lot.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.