Riders QB Cody Fajardo drawing ‘a lot’ of motivation from criticism by ‘media-heavy’ Chris Jones

Photo courtesy: CFL

Cody Fajardo is well aware of the criticism levelled at him by Edmonton Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones and it’s giving him plenty of motivation heading into the 2022 campaign.

In an interview with Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ star quarterback admitted that viral comments like those made by the former Riders’ bench boss have played a large role in fueling what he has started calling “revenge season” on social media.

“[It factored into it] a lot, but my entire life, I’ve been told I can’t throw, so when people say that, it rolls off my shoulders,” Fajardo revealed.

Defending the hiring of former Riders offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo upon his arrival in Edmonton, Jones called into question Fajardo’s ability to be a starting CFL quarterback, telling veteran Edmonton reporter Terry Jones: “I just don’t see him as a passer.”

Fajardo sees comments like that as typical of the gruff head coach’s public persona.

“Chris Jones is one of those guys who is very media-heavy and he is entitled to his opinion. I respect him as a coach and he has done a lot of amazing things in the CFL and won a lot of football games and has a crazy knack for finding talent,” Fajardo said.

“One man’s opinion is never going to change my belief in myself. I felt like I put some really good throws on tape, leading the CFL in passing in 2019, and I came in third last year.”

He’s heard the types of criticism thrown around by Jones before and they never seem to hold up to further scrutiny.

“Being a running quarterback, there’s always that stigma of: ‘Well, he can’t throw the ball.’ I always say that the proof’s in the pudding. If you don’t know, just look at the stats. That’s where you really see if a guy can throw it or not,” Fajardo explained.

“When I evaluate passing quarterbacks, the first thing I look to is completion percentage. I don’t get too buried in yards and touchdowns, but one thing I do pride myself in is trying to get completions and finding the open receiver. I think that’s a true indication of a passing quarterback.”

While his statistics in other areas took a step back last season, accuracy was not an issue Fajardo had to deal with. His 69.6 completion percentage was third in the CFL among quarterbacks with over 100 attempts — behind just Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros — and was the second highest mark in Riders’ franchise history. He set the record himself in 2019 with his incredible 71.5 percent efficiency.

That was the year that Fajardo played in McAdoo’s offensive system, which Jones credited as helping the Nevada product earn the West Division’s Most Outstanding Player award after he threw for 4,302 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Fajardo mustered 2,970 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with Jason Maas calling plays in 2021, the basis for much of Jones’ criticism. The quarterback heard plenty of similar critiques from fans and media last season, a fact that he openly admitted affected him personally. 

“I felt there was this stigma about myself and our offence last year. It felt like we were the worst team in the CFL … that we didn’t make the playoffs … that we couldn’t score a touchdown. That’s what it felt like, with the way people are talking about us in this off-season and about how bad we were,” Fajardo recalled.

“But we went toe-to-toe with the defending Grey Cup champs at their place in extremely cold weather [in the West Final]. We won 10 games. We won our first home playoff game [at new Mosaic Stadium].”

Jones is just another voice offering baseless negativity and Fajardo is ready to prove all of them wrong next season. The coldest dish of “revenge season” will be served in person on June 18, when the Riders travel to Commonwealth Stadium to take on the Elks.