To steal a line from disgraced former professional football manager Jon Gruden: “You gotta protect the goods, man!”
Chauchy clichés of a cheat like Gruden aside, lately the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ most prized merchandise has been slapped, kicked, punched and even rolled.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo has a messed up left knee that’s been deteriorating weekly and it probably even cost the Riders a win in the 2022 Touchdown Atlantic game.
There are many signs, not the least of which are comments from Fajardo himself, that he is not himself and needs a rest.
Phrases like “bull’s eye” to other teams and “major setback” about his injured left knee on which he wears a brace have been coming out of Fajardo’s mouth for weeks and his game on the pitch has suffered as well.
Two errors late in the game, one a poor call and pick six for Argos linebacker Wynton McManus and the other a bad pitch and sealed interception by Shaquille Richardson, should be enough to tell Saskatchewan management this plan for Fajardo to “play through” might not have been such a good idea after all.
After the heartbreaking loss in Wolfville, NS, it was hard for Rider fans to resign themselves to losing a game the greens and whites clearly should have won. That’s not an indictment of Fajardo’s abilities as a Saskatchewan trigger guard. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Fajardo’s willingness to keep grinding in a way that sometimes feels like an outright insistence on continuing to play when he’s clearly injured is both admirable and heroic. Especially after five quarterback sacks delivered by his offensive line against the Argonauts.
It’s not even an anomaly these days. In fact, since holding the Tiger-Cats bagless on opening weekend, Fajardo has hit the turf 24 times in five games since. This porous passage protection caused him to take blows, aggravating the condition of his left knee.
The Riders’ QB is battered and bruised and yet they don’t see fit to use their backup on short range plays. It’s an indictment of the Riders’ ability or lack thereof to develop Mason Fine or any other young quarterback.
With two more games to play before the Roughriders get a much-needed week off, a home rematch against the Argos and another in BC, the time has come for the greens and whites to give a break from their resident star.
Two weeks off followed by a week off will give Fajardo some of the rest he needs to come back and give the Riders a legitimate fighting chance in the West in the second half of the season. And if it’s still hurting, then Saskatchewan has even bigger problems than we think.
Rest and relaxation for Fajardo would allow the face of the franchise to recharge. Equally important would be the chance to see what Fine can do after more than a year of the Roughriders pouring valuable development resources into him.
Above all, it would tell Riders and their fans how much Fajardo means to their team, good or bad.
A two-game fight against Toronto and BC without Fajardo would only validate their decision to roll with him in the first place and give general manager Jeremy O’Day license to offer a long-term contract extension. A two-game success in Fajardo’s absence would show the Riders that there may be other options at quarterback.
A decision like this could play out a number of ways and it could even cost Saskatchewan another win or two. Allowing Fajardo to rest at this point would certainly be a gamble, but the bigger risk would be his long-term health and diminish the Riders’ chances of playing in the Gray Cup at home by not sitting him out.