TORONTO - The uncertainty created by the Toronto Argonauts' stadium and ownership issues has spilled over into their football operations.
With questions surrounding where Toronto will play after its Rogers Centre lease expires in 2017 and when owner David Braley might sell the storied franchise, the Argos face opening the 2015 season with a lame-duck general manager, head coach and starting quarterback. GM Jim Barker, head coach Scott Milanovich and veteran starter Ricky Ray are all in the final year of their contracts and CEO Chris Rudge said new deals might not come until after campaign begins.
Another key Argo in the final year of his contract is star receiver/kick-returner Chad Owens.
Usually, CFL teams re-sign their key front-office executives, coaches and players in the off-season to promote continuity and prevent distracting talk regarding their future during the season. But much of the off-season chatter in Toronto has centred on owner Braley's negotiations with Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment to have the Argos play at BMO Field.
Braley, 73, also owns the B.C. Lions and the Hamilton businessman plans to sell one or both clubs by his 75th birthday. MLSE has been mentioned as a potential suitor for the Argos but Braley has said his top priority is securing a new stadium lease before talking turkey on a potential sale.
Rudge said the delay in giving Barker, Milanovich and Ray extensions isn't a sign of the club's dissatisfaction rather the result of its off-field situation.
"I couldn't put a time frame on it right now, it's a unique situation given what's going on around the team," Rudge said at the Argos first off-season media gathering Friday. "The other things going on are clearly delaying the process to some degree."
Rudge said talks with all three continue but no formal offers are on the table. Rudge was clear he'd like the club to re-sign the trio but added that decision lies with Braley.
"Everything ultimately is Mr. Braley's decision so long as he's the owner," Rudge said. "What I can say is based on the hat I'm wearing and from my personal perspective, there isn't another general manager, head coach or quarterback that I'd like to see on our team as leaders in those positions.
"I talk to Jim about this on a regular basis, he knows where I stand on it. I've shared my thoughts with Mr. Braley."
After winning the 100th Grey Cup in '12 and reaching the '13 East final, the Argos missed the CFL playoffs last year. Barker said a successful 2015 campaign would make talk about the trio's future moot.
"In a perfect world we win Grey Cups and everybody is under contract for years to come," Barker said. "But we're not in a perfect world so you deal with it.
"The bottom line is we're in a win business. If we win. Scott, myself and Ricky will all be fine. That's the way it is."
Ray, 35, is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Barker said Ray's ahead of schedule in his weight-lifting but the club won't know his full progress until late next month.
But there's definite fallout for a club with questions regarding the future of its GM, head coach and biggest star. The uncertainty makes it hard to attract free agents or top-notch coaching prospects.
"It's really no different for any of us, we're commodities and we get that," Barker said. "We can be fired anytime but by the same token, people want to win and you've got to have good people."
Barker downplayed suggestions the uncertainty surrounding himself, Milanovich and Ray would be distracting this season. He said that issue pales in comparison to the challenges Toronto faced last year practising at multiple sites before a permanent facility at Downsview Park was completed.
"It's all about routine and when you're practising in Mississauga one day and somewhere else the other it's just hard to get into a routine," Barker said. "You're thinking about things other than winning.
"We're focused on learning from last year and being able to put that knowledge forward into a quality year."