Cody Fajardo being back with Riders for 2023 season ‘a big maybe’ according to Craig Dickenson

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If you can pick up what the Saskatchewan Roughriders are putting down, it seems like the team is planning to move on from Cody Fajardo — unless he ends up being the only experienced quarterback left in free agency.

The CFL’s money market opens Tuesday, February 14 and Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson said there’s a “high percentage” chance Fajardo will not be re-signed by Valentine’s Day. Asked directly if the green and white are making a push to try to re-sign Fajardo before free agency begins, Dickenson responded bluntly.

“The answer is no, but never say never. That’s the one thing about free agency, it’s not like a relationship where you break up and you just go your separate ways. The reality is we don’t know who is going to be available in February and Cody doesn’t know what teams are going to be in the market for a quarterback in February,” he said.

“Like it or not, we both need each other still a little bit right now. There’ll be guys that sign between now and the start of free agency that we maybe felt like were going to be there that aren’t now. We’ve gotta put a quarterback out there that can run the system Kelly [Jeffrey] wants to run and we’ll continue to visit with Kelly and find out what that looks like.”

The California native signed a two-year contract extension in October 2019 and extended his deal through 2022 in January 2021. He was originally scheduled to earn $509,000 in hard money last season but took a small pay cut in exchange for upfront money, collecting over $480,000 as the league’s second-highest-paid player after Blue Bombers’ QB Zach Collaros.

“We’ve had pretty limited conversations with Cody, to be honest with you. Talked to him a couple times in exit interviews. Craig’s actually reached out to him and talked to him over the phone. I believe our offensive coordinator that we just hired, Kelly Jeffrey, has also had some communication with him,” general manager Jeremy O’Day said.

“I expect that those talks will increase over the next few weeks so we can get an understanding of where he’s at and also where we’re at. He needs to know where we stand and also we need to know what his expectations are. Right after the season sometimes you say things when it’s still fresh and there’s always that time period where you really have to take a step back and have some time away and I think that time is going to do some good things for us.”

Fajardo suffered a grade-two MCL tear early this past season, which he felt limited his ability to change direction and make plays with his legs. He ran for 1,079 yards over his first two seasons with Saskatchewan, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Those numbers dropped significantly last year as he rushed 81 times for 357 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

The 30-year-old completed 69.8 percent of his passes for 3,360 yards with 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during 15 starts this past season before being benched for the Riders’ final two games. Dickenson held Fajardo out of practice in mid-October for what he originally termed a “vet day,” though he later admitted the team was making a change at quarterback to second-year pivot Mason Fine.

“The reality is we want to have a veteran quarterback, whether that be Cody or one of those other guys that happen to be available. We’re going to have a veteran quarterback in camp, but not to have the job, compete for the job. It’s going to be a competition this year, that’s going to be the one difference you’ll see a lot more competition for jobs this year. We feel like we’ve gotta get better at a lot of spots and the best way we know how to do that is to make it a competition,” Dickenson said.

Pending free agents such as Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris, McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Nick Arbuckle could hit the open market, but there’s no certainty. The future of Dane Evans in Hamilton is undetermined with the Tiger-Cats trading for Mitchell’s negotiating rights and No. 9 posting a photo of moving vehicles outside his Steel City home. If Saskatchewan has to circle back to Fajardo, Dickenson admitted it could be awkward.

“It’ll be a little bit of a struggle, there’s no doubt, but relationships are constantly evolving. It’s no different than my relationship with the club, I’m on my last [contract] year. Everybody has something to prove. We hope that if Cody is back with us — which is a big maybe — he’s got something to prove.”

“He’s gotta want to go out there and prove that last year was a fluke, that it was an anomaly and that he’s a better quarterback than that. Just like our football team has to go out next year and prove 2022 wasn’t the Saskatchewan Roughriders that we’re all about. That we’re a better team than that and we’re looking forward to proving that in 2023.”

The Riders could be doing so without Fajardo and a different starting QB instead.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.