TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts granted veteran Michael Bishop’s wish Saturday.
The Argos traded the backup quarterback to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for a conditional draft pick. A CFL source requesting anonymity said Bishop, unhappy with his lack of playing time behind starter Kerry Joseph, demanded that Toronto deal him.
When speaking to Sportsnet’s Jim Lang as well, Bishop said that head coach Rich Stubler was not sincere about the opportunity to earn his starting job back from Kerry Joseph, adding that he knew from the second day of training camp that he would be a back up all year. Bishop added that he feels like a scapegoat for everything that has gone with the Argos this season, and while he enjoyed his time in Toronto his looking forward to playing in a great CFL market.
The move to Regina reunites Bishop with Roughriders head coach Ken Miller and assistants Paul LaPolice and Gary Etcheverry, all of whom are former assistants who were in Toronto during Bishop’s tenure there.
"Our coaching staff is very pleased to be reunited with Michael," Riders general manager Eric Tillman said in a statement. "As you know, Kenny (Miller), Paul (LaPolice) and Gary (Etcheverry) all worked with Michael in Toronto, and they believe he brings many assets to our organization.
"In fact, Michael’s playing rights were acquired from Calgary while Gary was the head coach of the Argos."
Bishop, 32, is in his seventh season with the Argos but has played sparingly this season behind Joseph. The six-foot-two, 223-pound Bishop has completed just 19-of-42 passes this season for 326 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
The Argos put Bishop on recallable waivers earlier this season, a move general manager Adam Rita said was more housekeeping rather than an indication the club wanted to get rid of the quarterback.
CFL GMs often use the waiver wire to juggle their roster and also maintain control of their salary-cap figures. However, other CFL officials have been known to put a player on recallable waivers to gauge potential trade interest, then pull the player back and continue talks with perspective suitors. In this instance, though, it appeared no other CFL club put in a claim for Bishop.
"The Toronto Argonauts would like to thank Michael Bishop for his years of service and contributions to our team," Rita said in a statement. "We wish him well with this new opportunity in Saskatchewan."
Tillman acknowledged the Argos were in a tough situation having two bona fide starters in Joseph and Bishop.
"In making this trade, we certainly respect the Toronto leadership for acknowledging Michael had been placed in a very difficult situation via the Kerry Joseph deal," Tillman said. "Athletically they hated to see him go, but, both Adam (Rita) and Rich (Argos head coach Rich Stubler), expressed a desire to be fair to Michael, given the many contributions he made to their club.
"In that regard, it’s important to remember Toronto went 11-1 with Michael as their starting quarterback in 2007."
Last season Bishop registered career highs of 2,920 yards passing, and 22 touchdowns with Toronto. He also was the East Division’s leading rusher among quarterbacks with 260 yards.
But Bishop has spent most of this season on the bench as Joseph has started all eight games for Toronto (3-5, second in East Division). Bishop saw some action in the Argos’ 32-14 home loss to Montreal on Aug. 15, completing 9-of-21 passes for 126 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Bishop’s presence in that game, combined with the inconsistency of the Argos offence, did create some question as to who would start for Toronto when it faces arch-rival Hamilton in its annual Labour Day contest. That question, though, has now been answered as Bishop’s departure leaves untested Cody Pickett and Reggie McNeal — who has started the club’s last two games at receiver — as the lone quarterbacks behind Joseph.
The trade is a peculiar one for Saskatchewan, which has a CFL-best 6-2 record and is atop the West Division standings. The Roughriders have veteran Marcus Crandell and Steven Jyles with Darian Durant — who effectively stepped in under centre when Crandell had a hamstring injury — slated to return shortly from a rib injury.
"As to what impact this trade will have on our current quarterbacking situation, that is, as it should be, a coaching decision," Tillman said. "Kenny wanted Michael in green and white; we’ve accomplished that, and Kenny will assess the overall situation as we go forward."
The deal ends a roller-coaster tenure in Toronto for Bishop, who for years teased Argos fans with flashes of brilliance, only to frustrate them with his penchant of relying too heavily on his strong passing arm and making poor decisions throwing the football.
Bishop, a Heisman Trophy finalist his final season at Kansas State, wrested the starting job from veteran Damon Allen to start last year and appeared to round the corner in terms of his development as a capable CFL starter. But he sustained an early-season wrist injury that forced him to miss a good chunk of the campaign.
When Bishop returned, he began reverting back to making bad decisions throwing the ball. However, he won 11-of-12 starts as the Argos starter and led the club to an 11-7-0 record to finish first in the East Division.
.However, Bishop struggled in his first-ever CFL playoff game as a starter, completing 21-of-45 passes for 376 yards in Toronto’s 19-9 home loss to Winnipeg in the East Division final.
Still, the expectation during the off-season was that Bishop would be in the mix for the Argos’ starting job come training camp. But that all changed in early March when Toronto acquired Joseph, the ’07 CFL’s outstanding player, in a blockbuster trade with the Grey Cup-champion Roughriders.
Ironically, on the day Toronto formally introduced Joseph to the Toronto media, it also announced re-signing Bishop to a new contract. With the retirement of Allen in May, the Argos said both Bishop and Joseph would battle for the starting job in training camp.
Joseph emerged with the No. 1 job to start the season, but Stubler contended he’d use a quarterback rotation and wouldn’t be afraid to play both players in games.
However, early in the season Stubler declared Joseph as the club’s starting quarterback. As a result, Bishop has been used sparingly this season.
.In 99 career games with Toronto, Bishop completed 204-of-397 passes for 3,246 yards and 44 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 1,101 yards and eight touchdowns.
Bishop enjoyed a brilliant college career at Kansas State, compiling an overall 22-3 record as a started. He was second in voting for the ’98 Heisman Trophy to Texas running back Ricky Williams (who spent last year in Toronto while suspended by the NFL).
Bishop was a seventh-round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 1999, the year before the club selected quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round out of Michigan.
Bishop spent two seasons with New England before being released in August 2001. He signed with the Green Bay Packers but was let go before the regular season.
Toronto acquired Bishop’s CFL rights from Calgary in 2002.