Argos QB dilemma gets more complicated

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The Argonauts' quarterbacking situation has become a little more complicated now that the Arena league has pushed the end of its season back to midsummer.

That means Michael Bishop, who on the strength of two late-season heroics in relief of Damon Allen, was expected to seriously challenge the 43-year-old veteran for the No.1 job, might not be available until August.

Unless, of course, the Argos compensate Bishop for the money he'd lose by forsaking the Kansas City Brigade. The average salary in the AFL is $85,000 (U.S.), including housing, while a player is on a team's roster.

Bishop is believed to be earning at least that much.

Argo general manager Adam Rita said he cannot afford to pay Bishop that amount, as well as his CFL salary, believed to also be in that vicinity but in Canadian dollars.

"We couldn't do that and fit him under the (new $4.05 million) cap," said Rita. "We'd prefer he didn't go because he can't be in serious consideration for the No.1 job if he's not here. But that's up to him. If he goes, I'll recruit around him. He has to make up his mind."

Bishop, who was in Orlando, Fla., taking part in the Pop Warner Challenger Divisional games yesterday, insisted money was not his motivation for wanting to play in the AFL.

"It's about playing football," he said. "It's not about the money with me."

He said he's not necessarily concerned about joining the Argos after the CFL season has started because that's what he's done the last three years.

"But that's something I'll deal with when it comes up," he said. "If they want me to come up (early) I'Il deal with it then."

According to AFL spokesman Chris McCloskey, a clause in the standard AFL contract makes it possible for a player to jump to another league (the NFL or CFL) prior to the start of the AFL season even if he's under contract to an AFL team.

Under what is called the "other league exempt status" the team he leaves would retain his AFL rights.

However, a player cannot leave once the AFL season has begun, explained McCloskey. That could lead to litigation.

The AFL season begins March 1 with Kansas City playing its opener on March 4. The regular 16-game season ends June 25 with 12 of the 19 teams making the playoffs. The Arena Bowl is July 29 in New Orleans.

The Argos face a dilemma regarding their quarterbacking.

First, they don't know what Allen's situation is. He's played out his option, has not signed a new contract and could become a free agent Feb. 15.

Argo president Keith Pelley said he's had a preliminary discussion with Allen and they've agreed to talk again after the holiday period.

"In fact we've had significant dialogue regarding our quarterback situation and we are aware of Bishop's situation (in regards to the AFL)," Pelley said.

While Bishop performed superbly in his two late-season relief appearances, he must still prove he's capable of being the starter game after game.

Argos will have a new offensive coordinator — most likely Steve Buratto — and Bishop would need to return to Toronto early in the spring, learn a new system and then come to training camp and win the starting job.

Until he does that, the Argos are unlikely to compensate him for his lost pay as well as pay him his CFL salary. That would end up costing them as much as $200,000 (Canadian), an amount they would not want to be shelling out if he winds up being a backup to Allen or another starter.

And that could be former B.C. Lions quarterback Casey Printers, who is currently on the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs practice roster, but might become available at the end of the season.

I think the Argos are playing Bishop against the hope that Printers will come North. That's why they are currently unwilling to commit.