One of the first items on Kelly Jeffrey’s agenda as the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ new offensive coordinator will be helping decide what the franchise does at the game’s most important position.
He answered directly when asked this week about embattled quarterback Cody Fajardo, who is a pending free agent.
“If Cody were to be the guy, we would win games. We’d win a Grey Cup,” Jeffrey said. “Cody can be successful for a lot of organizations. He’s a tough kid, he plays hard, there’s no reason he can’t be.”
The idea of Fajardo leading the Riders to the promised land might sound absurd at first glance. This is the man who was benched in favour of second-year quarterback Mason Fine at the tail end of a lost 2022 season that saw the Riders lose 11 of their final 13 games and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
But the 30-year-old QB is not that far removed from leading the green and white to back-to-back West Finals while finishing just behind Brandon Banks for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award in 2019.
Jeffrey believes an offence suited to Fajardo’s skill set could see the six-year veteran re-emerge as one of the CFL’s top players despite the pivot’s statistical decline since that magical 2019 season.
“I’m kind of a believer that you take the offence and you bend it around the quarterback and not the other way around,” he said. “We would bend the offence to things he could do really well.”
Jeffrey was the Riders’ running backs coach in 2022, so he is familiar with the struggles the offence dealt with over the course of last season. He does not place all the blame on the six-foot-two, 223-pound signal-caller but he does believe Fajardo would need to play better if he were to return for a fourth season in Saskatchewan.
“Quarterback play is one of those things that we can do better at and Cody can play better, he’ll be the first one to tell you that,” Jeffrey said. “He’s going to get healthy as well, which is going to be another huge factor in his career. He can be really successful. He’s a good quarterback.”
Despite all the superlatives fired his way, Fajardo’s future in Riderville is very much up in the air. He is scheduled to become a free agent in February and he has made it known he is not happy with the lack of communication from the organization since the season ended.
While the team has not turned the page completely on Fajardo being back in 2023, they are doing their due diligence on who could be leading the Riders’ offence next year. Other quarterbacks currently slated to become free agents this winter include Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris, Nick Arbuckle, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, and Matthew Shiltz.
“All these quarterbacks that we’re evaluating and identifying can be successful,” Jeffrey said. “Cody is one of the names we’re looking at, I think can be successful. It’s just got to be the right fit.”
Jeffrey’s job, and those of the rest of the coaching staff and front office, are likely hinging on the Riders finding that “right fit” at the game’s most important position.