Cody Fajardo says he’s more interested in collecting championships than fattening his wallet.
"I have a lot more fun winning Grey Cups than I do being the highest-paid player and not making the playoffs," said the Montreal Alouettes quarterback during a virtual press conference Thursday.
The Grey Cup champion Alouettes extended Fajardo’s contract through the 2025 CFL season on Wednesday. The dollar figure was not disclosed.
Fajardo was already under contract for next year after signing a two-year deal with Montreal last off-season.
Fajardo, who earned Grey Cup MVP honours after leading Montreal to a win over favoured Winnipeg last month, says he left "a lot of money on the table" to help the Alouettes keep a good team around him amid the league’s salary cap constraints.
"I've been part of the highest-paid guys in the league and kind of suffered with the guys around me, and so I learned from my mistakes," said Fajardo. "What's an extra couple dollars here compared to a stud player on the defence or offence that can help you win football games?"
Fajardo says Alouettes general manager Danny Maciocia — who led MVP chants for his quarterback during the team's championship parade — reached out to his agent last Friday and the two sides quickly found common ground.
The 31-year-old Fajardo, from Brea, Calif., played for the Toronto Argonauts, B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders before joining the Alouettes.
He says he’s committed to finishing out his career in Montreal — something he made clear to Maciocia before heading to his off-season home in Reno, Nev.
"I said, 'Look Danny, this is my last run,'" said Fajardo. "As long as you want me to be the starting quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes that's as long as I'll be (it).
"As soon as we find that it's no longer, then I think that's the time that I hang them up and it's done for me."
Fajardo had been allowed to walk by the Roughriders after losing his job as starting quarterback — a position he held for three years — late in the 2022 season.
He’s come a long way since.
"What a crazy (difference) 365 days makes," he said. "Being in this same situation last year in the off-season, going into it contemplating retirement, not knowing if there's a team that's going to reach out and now going into it as a Grey Cup champ and an MVP."
Fajardo had a decent regular season on an 11-7 Alouettes team that won more games thanks to its stifling defence than the offence.
He led the league with a 71.4 per cent completion percentage and finished fifth with 3,847 passing yards, though his 14-12 touchdown-to-turnover ratio left much to be desired.
But after Montreal beat Hamilton and Toronto en route to the title game, Fajardo saved his best for last.
He threw for 290 yards on 21-for-26 completions against the Blue Bombers to go with three TD passes (and one interception) and completed a 78-yard drive that will go down in CFL history.
After leading Montreal downfield, Fajardo connected with Tyson Philpot on a Grey Cup-winning 19-yard TD with 13 seconds left.
The Alouettes took their first step toward keeping their championship team together on Thursday by signing 35-year-old defensive lineman Shawn Lemon to an extension through next season.
Lemon, who was eligible to become a free agent on Feb. 13, joined the Alouettes on July 24 and had 26 defensive tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble in 13 regular-season games.
Montreal still has some key pending free agents to sign, including linebackers Darnell Sankey and Tyrice Beverette.
As a leader for this team, Fajardo says he takes his role in helping retain players seriously.
“I might have been Shawn Lemon's first text when he resigned … I talked with Sankey last night,” said Fajardo.
He’s also been in touch with top receiver Austin Mack, who’s under contract for next season but is also garnering some interest from the NFL, according to Fajardo.
“It's just making guys feel valued, making guys understand the relationships that you built,” he said.
"I'm excited just to see the signings from here on out and it feels like Christmas every day, waking up and seeing the Lemon signing or seeing my own signing, it's the excitement that I think continues to build because we've built something so special in Montreal."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press