Cody Fajardo ‘not ruling out’ return to the Riders despite desire for ‘fresh start’

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

With free agency set to open in less than two weeks’ time, veteran quarterback Cody Fajardo is expected to officially become a former member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

However, the 30-year-old signal-caller revealed in an interview with Chris Murray of Nevada SportsNet that he isn’t taking any options off the table.

“I’m just looking forward to maybe a fresh start,” Fajardo said, adding an important caveat. “I’m not ruling out Saskatchewan in total because obviously, you want as many doors open, especially in a nine-team league. You start eliminating teams and now you’re down to two teams, right?”

Fajardo spent three seasons as the starter in Saskatchewan but was benched for the final two games of a disappointing 2022 season. That move was the first step in a split between the organization and their franchise quarterback, with Fajardo expected to walk in free agency and the Riders exploring other options under centre.

Nevertheless, the organization has been cautious not to alienate their former starter entirely, lest the chips fall unfavourably this offseason and they be forced to reconcile. New offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey believes the team is capable of winning a Grey Cup with Fajardo at the helm while head coach Craig Dickenson has been frank about the possibility of a reunion, calling it “a big maybe.”

Clarity will come from how much interest Fajardo receives on the open market. It marks the first time he has had a chance to test free agency since becoming a starter and he possesses some leverage as one of the most experienced options available.

With the CFL’s legal tampering window set to open on Sunday, February 5, the quarterback is not yet aware of which teams might be vying for his services. However, he does know what he is looking for in his next destination.

“I’ve given my list to my agent of the teams I’m interested in, and I’m just looking as a 30-year-old guy now with experience, it’s more looking for a team around you,” Fajardo said. “You want to play and you want to make as much money as possible, but I’m to the point now where you want to win championships.”

“A lot of times when you’re young in your career, you want to make as much money as you can because it’s so short of a time you play football. As you get older, you really care more about winning and the relationships you build.”

The Nevada product won a Grey Cup in 2017 as a third-stringer with the Toronto Argonauts but has yet to reach the pinnacle as a starter, falling twice in the West Final to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He remains confident that he can get over that hump with the right franchise.

“It’s exciting to be a professional quarterback, and you don’t know when your last football game’s going to be. There’s so many peaks and valleys, and I’ve been everywhere from non-drafted to cut to being a franchise quarterback to being up for the MVP of the league,” Fajardo said.

“I’ve seen the wide spectrum of everything I think you can see to being benched. It just really helps you become a better man in my belief, and it also helps you just understand football is such a short window, you want to take advantage of every opportunity you get. Hopefully I can do that.”

Fajardo entered the CFL in 2016 with Toronto, spending his first three seasons as a backup for the Argonauts and B.C. Lions. He signed with Saskatchewan in 2019 and was unexpectedly thrust into action when then-starter Zach Collaros suffered a concussion on the first series of the season opener.

The dual-threat pivot quickly established himself as the quarterback of the future, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 4,302 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while rushing for 611 yards and 10 more scores. The Riders finished first in the West Division and Fajardo was named a finalist for Most Outstanding Player.

After a COVID-imposed hiatus, Fajardo took a slight step back in 2021. He completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 2,970 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 13 games, but rushed for 468 yards and four scores.

His fortunes would change early this season when a grade-two MCL tear limited his mobility behind what was a historically bad Riders offensive line. Fajardo completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 3,360 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 17 games, rushing for 357 yards and eight majors. Saskatchewan would miss the playoffs, ending his tenure as the starter.

Though he has not yet been able to recapture the glory of his first season in Regina, Fajardo believes he has many years left to prove he can still be that player.

“When I say, ‘A lot left in the tank,’ I would love to play until I’m about 35,” he explained. “When I came out of college, my goal was five years professionally. I thought that would have been really good. Now going onto my ninth year in total, I’m really excited just to know there’s still some game left in me and I’m still walking, I can still talk, can still have a normal conversation. There’s a lot of positives.”

With his retirement goal still five years away, he hopes to claim one of the nine starting jobs in the CFL and leave a lasting legacy for the next generation.

“To be one of those guys is a special moment for me, especially playing in Saskatchewan where the fans sell out just about every game and they’re very passionate about football,” Fajardo said.

“It’s been a truly incredible ride. I don’t know when it’s going to end, but I just know that it’s going to be a lot more fun having my son and hopefully I can play long enough where my son can see me on the field.”