Argos release Lemon

The Toronto Argonauts have announced that quarterback Cleo Lemon has been released. (JACK...

The Toronto Argonauts have announced that quarterback Cleo Lemon has been released. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:55 PM ET

TORONTO - Steven Jyles is the Argonauts' starting quarterback.

That much became clear on Tuesday when the Argos announced they released Cleo Lemon, who had started 27 of the past 29 games, including playoffs, for the Argos.

But though many took to social media and other forms of communication to say they were not surprised about Lemon's release, there remains no definitive answer as to whether Argos head coach and general manager Jim Barker really wanted to squeeze Lemon out of the picture.

"We parted ways and it was my decision," Barker told reporters on Tuesday. "I am not going to discuss specifics. I felt it was in the organization's interests to move this way. Steven Jyles is our starter and Dalton Bell is our backup."

Barker had been Lemon's biggest defender since he decided to make the National Football League castoff his starter at the beginning of last season. And though Lemon seemed to take forever, at times, to adjust to the Canadian Football League, he was making improvements.

When Barker was asked about Lemon's game on Tuesday, the answers pointed away from this being an on-field issue.

"He was getting it," Barker said. "He was progressing and he was getting better."

Barker was asked: Did Lemon quit?

"We parted ways," Barker said. "I am not going to be specific."

Lemon was pulled from an eventual loss to the B.C. Lions on Friday night at halftime after completing 11 of 15 passes for 57 yards, but the consensus is that three of those incompletions were catchable passes. Lemon then spent the second half at the far end of the bench, away from the rest of his teammates, obviously upset about being taken out in favour of Bell. Lemon then departed the Rogers Centre before speaking to reporters.

There were hints that what was happening behind closed doors was not good, whether it was an argument between Barker and Lemon or something else.

"Definitely surprised, without question," slotback Jeremaine Copeland said. "I don't think anybody in the locker room knew it until today. (Lemon) definitely improved from when he first stepped up here but your professionalism has to accommodate for something and I don't like how it went down.

"I don't think even (the coaches) knew right away. Everyone saw his stuff was not (in his locker) and we figured he went home.

"I am pretty sure there is something on the inside that I didn't know about. What we know is Steven Jyles is our quarterback now and that is what matters to us."

Said receiver/returner Chad Owens: "The day (Saturday) after the game, we all came and did our normal routine and he was not here."

Lemon could not be reached for comment. From all indications, he was a positive person in the locker room, and one former teammate said on Tuesday that Lemon was about as even-keel as they come.

The bottom line for the Argos, now, is that they're keeping their fingers crossed that Jyles is the guy to lead them out of this 2-7 mess. Jyles said his throwing shoulder, which was repaired with surgery last October, is fine and that he has been throwing without problems for a couple of months.

Barker's future undoubtedly will be tied to the performance of Jyles, who, as a CFL starter, has a 2-9 record. Already gone is defensive co-ordinator Chip Garber, who was fired in August, and now Barker has said goodbye to his starting quarterback.

For every time it is said that the head coach pays the price for a team's lack of success, that's not what has happened here.

This can't be what Barker, the 2010 CFL coach of the year, had in mind when he envisioned how the 2011 season would unfold.

"I do things I think are best for the organization," Barker said.

"If you look back and start being afraid to make moves, all I can do is think about what is right for the organization. Other people will make the decision of whether they think I made too many mistakes, whatever. This is not an exact science."The Cleo Lemon experiment is officially over, the Argos’ season all but officially done and the perpetual search for a proven CFL quarterback just beginning to unfold.

Fitting of Toronto’s lost season was yet another loss, only this one had nothing to do with any game-day consequence.

Before they even took to the field for Tuesday’s workout, word leaked that the Argos were poised to make some news, with all indications leading to Lemon.

It became official just before noon when the team announced Lemon had been released.

Given it is the CFL and only two of the eight teams fail to qualify for the post-season, the Argos aren’t technically out of the playoffs, but their hopes are growing dimmer by the week.

If they can’t win on the road in consecutive weeks against B.C., which pasted the Argos last Friday, and in Regina against the rejuvenated Roughriders, Toronto will be toast.

To put the blame on Lemon would be foolish, but just like the events that surrounded Chip Garber’s ouster, the Argos are trying to sell a thin fan base that all moves will be explored.

Lemon was challenged by head coach Jim Barker a few weeks ago and he responded, helping the Argos’ anemic offence to a 500-yard game in Hamilton, only to lose to the Ticats.

Just when it appeared Lemon had turned a corner, he reverted to his inconsistent, moody ways against B.C., looking completely disinterested and unengaged when Barker turned to Dalton Bell in a desperate bid to jump-start the offence.

It was a risk to anoint Lemon the starter last season, a move many believed was pre-ordained as a means to lure the journeyman NFL quarterback to three-down football.

His tenure in Toronto includes 25 regular-season starts and two playoff games, expectations that were never realized, in part because the Argos never surrounded Lemon with quality receivers.

When they went 9-9 last season and upset Hamilton in the East semifinal, the Argos refused to buy into the theory that they won in spite of their quarterback.

In retrospect, the Argos insulated Lemon too much and were afraid to let him make plays.

Lemon is not without blame because too often he held onto the football long, make indecisive throws and never did grasp the management of the run offence.

Had he had time, many thought Lemon would succeed in the CFL, but the Argos were looking for a quick fix and turned to Lemon.

Who starts this Saturday in Vancouver is anyone’s guess, a decision that will likely be made later Tuesday.

Steven Jyles, who is eligible to come off the nine-game injured list, is a likely candidate, but Jyles is no saviour and time is clearly running out for the Argos, even in the CFL.

Also on Tuesday, the Argos announced the signing of import quarterback Zack Eskridge.


Videos

Photos

Canoe Top Headlines