Vanstone: Fajardo is a drawing card for free agents
The Canadian Football League was making a list — and checking it twice — before releasing a scroll that consisted of 280 names.
Included among the prospective free agents were 32 members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders who are (or were) eligible to test the open market on Feb. 11.
Make that 31. The Roughriders announced Friday that defensive tackle Makana Henry has signed a two-year contract extension.
The total has elicited some gasps among Roughriders fans, but every team is in a comparable situation due to the prevalence of one-year contracts.
In fact, the Roughriders are a team to be envied.
They have stability, certainty and affordability at football’s most important position — quarterback — and that is not the case across the board.
The Ottawa Redblacks and Toronto Argonauts have glaring voids at quarterback.
The Lions are coming off a non-playoff season. Calgary was a first-round flop. Therefore, it has yet to be established whether a $700,000-per-year salary is sustainable.
Question marks even surround the 2019 Grey Cup finalists — the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton compiled a league-best 15-3 regular-season record even though starter Jeremiah Masoli was lost to a knee injury in late July. Dane Evans took over and effectively piloted the Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup berth, only to falter in a 33-12 loss to Winnipeg.
As for the Bombers, who knows?
It has yet to be established whether Matt Nichols, who opened the 2019 season as the Bombers’ starter, is a pending free agent. Nichols suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-August.
In Nichols’ absence, the Blue Bombers ultimately used a quarterbacking tandem — consisting of Zach Collaros and Chris Streveler — to great effect. Collaros and Streveler are, of course, eligible to test free agency.
The CFL’s quarterbacking equation is rounded out by Trevor Harris (Edmonton Eskimos), Vernon Adams Jr. (Montreal Alouettes) and Cody Fajardo (Saskatchewan).
Edmonton, Montreal and Saskatchewan have the luxury of knowing that the starting quarterback is under contract without having to deal with the salary-cap squeeze that a $700,000-per-annum pact can create.
Fajardo could have tested free agency, but he opted to sign a two-year contract extension in October.
The Roughriders are unaccustomed to this type of stability at quarterback in the post-Darian Durant era.
After the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons, nobody really knew who would be calling signals for the Green and White the following year. (Where have you gone, Vince Young?)
With Fajardo in place, everything else could unfold quite nicely for general manager Jeremy O’Day as he wades through the annual free-agency flood.
Fajardo is a drawing card — a charismatic presence whose commitment to the Roughriders could be widely emulated.
For only the seventh time in franchise history, the Roughriders boast a CFL all-star quarterback.
In other words, Fajardo has just joined an exclusive fraternity that consists of Roughriders royalty.
Prospective free agents are well-advised to take note.