‘How can we say that?’: Milt Stegall believes Riders’ Cody Fajardo ‘can’t be considered an elite quarterback’

Photo courtesy: Arthur Ward/CFL.ca

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have several serious questions to answer coming off the bye week but it appears that many already have an answer when it comes to the most pressing query: is Cody Fajardo an elite quarterback?

CFL on TSN panellist Milt Stegall is the latest to weigh in on the status of the Riders’ face of the franchise and his response on 980 CJME’s The Green Zone this week was definitive.

“No, how can we say that? I mean, the numbers don’t say that,” the Hall of Fame receiver guffawed.

“He had the great year when he stepped on the scene in 2019 but since then, he hasn’t played well and whatever the reasons may be, it doesn’t matter. The moment you step on that field when you’re in his position, when you’re getting a nice contract and decent money relatively speaking, you’re expected to produce and we haven’t seen that yet. We haven’t seen it and he’s had opportunities.”

A journeyman backup, Fajardo was thrust into the lineup for Saskatchewan in 2019 and responded with an all-star season. He tossed a league-leading 4,302 yards and 18 touchdowns against eight interceptions while rushing for 611 yards and another 10 scores, earning himself a lucrative new contract.

After an underwhelming follow-up campaign in 2021, Fajardo has struggled to hit his stride this year. Entering Week 10, he sits sixth in the league with 1,656 passing yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games played. As a result, the Riders are fourth in the West Division and fading fast at 4-4.

Fajardo’s diminished performance can be explained away by a number of mitigating factors, including a serious MCL injury suffered in Week 2 and the porous play of his offensive line. However, Stegall will not accept any excuses.

“He talked about how he needed some big-play receivers to get the ball downfield and he got Duke William. I know it’s not all on him. I know the offensive line is not the best but when you want to be an elite [quarterback], you find ways to get things done,” he stressed.

“Some people say the offensive coordinator Jason Maas is not for him. So what? When you’re an elite [quarterback], you find ways to make plays regardless of what’s going on and he hasn’t done that, so he can’t be considered an elite [quarterback]. I know some people may disagree with that, especially some people in Saskatchewan, but honestly he’s not there.”

Riders fans will be quick to question Stegall’s objectivity given his career-long dedication to the rival Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but he’s not the first notable former player to deliver a verdict on Fajardo’s elite status.

Fellow Hall of Fame receiver Nik Lewis and former Riders’ running back Wes Cate delivered harsh critiques of the Nevada product last week and both have far more skin in the game than their TSN counterpart.

“Wes Cates, who I think still lives there, and I think Nick [Lewis] lives there, those guys know the backlash they would face by saying this and they’re just giving their honest opinion and I totally 100 percent agree with them,” Stegall noted.

“Just look at the numbers, the numbers don’t lie and right now he’s not an elite [quarterback] in this league.”

Fajardo will have the remainder of the season to prove his doubters wrong and will need to do so decisively, as his contract with the Riders is set to expire this offseason.