Argos ‘pretty patient’ with QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson but admit ‘timeline’ for return is close to end

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The defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts made some big splashes following the opening of CFL free agency, but they still don’t know who their starting quarterback will be in 2023.

Incumbent starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson hit the open market on Tuesday with questions still swirling around his future and head coach Ryan Dinwiddie could offer no answers when addressing the media on Thursday.

“We’ll see. We’re being pretty patient with him. I don’t know exactly how it’s gonna play out,” he said. “He’s got some things going on in the States and his wife’s got some great opportunities for her job and he might stay there and support her. She makes a good living, got a great opportunity, so he’s thinking some of those things over.”

“We’re trying to be as comfortable as we can be in giving him time but I’m not sure how that’s gonna play out yet.”

Rumours around Bethel-Thompson’s possible departure have plagued the Argos since before their Grey Cup victory. The 34-year-old rushed home following the championship win in Regina, attending the team’s celebration in downtown Toronto via video call.

His wife, Chinaka Hodge, is currently serving as head writer for an upcoming Marvel series on Disney+ called Ironheart, a heavy workload that has made it increasingly difficult for the quarterback to leave his young family for six months of the year in Canada. While Bethel-Thompson has reportedly told the Argos that he will not retire and will only play for them if returns to the CFL, he continues to weigh his options — including the USFL and XFL.

The former pro football journeyman has played in alternative professional leagues in the past, spending time in the Arena Football League and United Football League in between NFL stops. He spent the cancelled 2020 CFL season playing in The Spring League, which formed the foundations of the current USFL.

That has left his CFL club in a state of limbo, unsure how to proceed at the sport’s most important position. With limited other options available, Dinwiddie admits that Toronto’s patience can’t last forever.

“There’ll be a timeline on it. It’s gotta happen here pretty soon if we make that decision, and he makes that decision,” the coach acknowledged. “We’re just trying to be patient and going through all kinds of scenarios and doing the best we can to be prepared with each decision that he makes; it can go either way. We’ve been doing our research to make sure we’re ready to go if he retires or he wants to come back.”

Should their franchise pivot choose to walk away, the team’s top in-house option at quarterback is backup Chad Kelly, who came off the bench in relief of the injured Bethel-Thompson late in their Grey Cup win. 

While the organization has said they are comfortable with Kelly as a starter, it has been made clear that he will not be handed the job without competition. With few veterans left on the market, that may come from players new to the CFL rather than from recognizable names.

“I think we’ve got some guys down in the States that we’ve been researching on that potentially could come up here, that maybe don’t necessarily have CFL experience but have experience playing,” Dinwiddie explained. “We want to add to that room, that’s for sure. You’re always trying to add to that room every year, right? We want to have as much competition as we can in camp, that’s what we’re looking for.”

“There’s not a lot of people out there right now that aren’t under contract, so we’ll see how that’s gonna play out. We’ve gone through some different scenarios but that’s one position where we want to add and bring competition going into training camp.”

Still, the team’s preference appears to be bringing back Bethel-Thompson, who is currently recovering from offseason thumb surgery. He led the CFL in passing yards in 2022, completing 387-of-579 passes for 4,731 yards, 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while playing a vital role in the Argos’ rise to the top of the league.

In five seasons with Toronto, Bethel-Thompson has thrown for 13,261 yards, 70 touchdowns and 49 interceptions — good enough for fourth all-time in the franchise’s passing record book behind Ricky Ray, Conredge Holloway and Damon Allen.

With a winning legacy now secured, the veteran won’t rush to make the correct choice for his family — even if it means the Argos are stuck playing the waiting game.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.