To steal a line from disgraced former pro football coach Jon Gruden: “You’ve got to protect the merchandise, man!”
Chauchy cliches from a fraud like Gruden aside, lately the Saskatchewan Roughriders most prized merchandise has been slapped, kicked, punched and even rolled on.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo has a messed-up left knee that’s deteriorating by the week and it likely even cost the Riders a win in the 2022 Touchdown Atlantic game.
There are signs galore, not the least of which are comments from Fajardo himself, indicating he is not himself and needs a rest.
Phrases like “bullseye” for other teams and “major setback” about his injured left knee that he’s been wearing a brace on have been drifting out of Fajardo’s mouth for weeks and his play on the field has suffered, too.
Two late-game mistakes, one a bad decision and pick-six to Argos linebacker Wynton McManus and the other a bad throw and game-sealing interception by Shaquille Richardson, should be enough to tell Saskatchewan management this plan to have Fajardo “play through it” maybe wasn’t such a good idea after all.
After the heart-breaker loss in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, it was hard for Rider fans to reconcile losing a game the green and white clearly should have won. It’s not an indictment of Fajardo’s abilities as the head trigger-puller in Saskatchewan. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Fajardo’s willingness to keep grinding in a way that sometimes sounds like a downright insistence on continuing to play while he’s clearly injured is both admirable and heroic. Particularly following five quarterback sacks surrendered by his offensive line against the Argonauts.
That’s not even an anomaly these days. In fact, since holding the Tiger-Cats without a sack on opening weekend, Fajardo has hit the turf 24 times in the five games since. That porous pass protection has caused him to take a pounding, worsening the state of his left knee.
The Riders QB is battered and bruised and still, they don’t see fit to use their backup on short-yardage plays. That is an indictment on the Riders’ ability, or lack thereof, to develop Mason Fine or any other young quarterback.
With two more games left before the Roughriders get a badly needed bye week, one a rematch at home against the Argos and another in B.C., the timing is right for the green and white to give their resident star a break.
Two weeks off followed by a bye week will give Fajardo some of the rest he needs to come back and give the Riders a legitimate shot at contending in the West over the second half of the season. And if he’s still hurting, then Saskatchewan has even bigger problems than any of us realize.
The rest and relaxation for Fajardo would allow the face of the franchise to recharge his batteries. Equally as important would be the chance to see what Fine can do after more than a year of the Roughriders investing precious developmental resources in him.
Above all else, it would tell the Riders and their fan base how much Fajardo means to their team, good or bad.
A two-game struggle against Toronto and B.C. without Fajardo would only validate their decision to roll with him in the first place and give general manager Jeremy O’Day a license to offer a long-term contract extension. A two-game success in Fajardo’s absence would show the Riders that maybe there are other options at quarterback.
There are a lot of different ways a decision like this could play out and it might even cost Saskatchewan another win or two. Allowing Fajardo to rest at this stage would certainly be a gamble, but the bigger risk would be his longer-term health and diminishing the Riders chances of playing in the Grey Cup at home by not sitting him.