Heading into his third professional season, quarterback Michael Bishop may get the chance to be a starting quarterback.
The Patriots have had discussions with Bishop and his agent, Michael Lartigue, about the quarterback playing in NFL Europe for the league's 2001 season. A seventh-round pick out of Kansas State in 1999, Bishop has obvious athleticism, but his chances of handling the New England offense are hindered by the presence of Drew Bledsoe.
While in Tampa for the Super Bowl, Patriots Assistant Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli met with Lartigue to discuss the possibility of Bishop playing in NFL Europe. New England Head Coach Bill Belichick and quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein have also encouraged Bishop to play overseas.
Bishop wants the opportunity to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Lartigue said the former Heisman Trophy runner-up is open to the idea of going to Europe for the chance to showcase his abilities on a full-time basis this summer.
"The decision is in Mike's hands, and it has to be the right situation," Lartigue said. "Our feeling is that Michael is not in the Patriots long-term plans. In that regard, it would make sense.
"Mike's feeling is that he would like to go over seas. People have not yet seen what he can do in the course of a whole game. Most of what he has done has been in the preseason, and that is usually for a quarter or two at a time. Realistically you are not going to be able to show everything in those situations.
"Michael wants to be able to run an offense. It also will increase his [trade] value if he goes overseas and plays. From the Patriots perspective that would make sense."
As a league rule, teams have to make six players available for the NFL Europe season. Those who go are sent with their consent, as teams cannot force any players to participate in the league.
The discussions are ongoing, but a final decision on whether Bishop goes to Europe this year will have to come soon. All teams must allocate at least six players in early February. The NFL Europe draft is Feb. 21.
"If he decides to go, he would have to go be ready pretty quickly," Lartigue said. "We are still in discussions, but it will be up to Michael. He is definitely open to it, but we have to put everything down on paper and weigh out the pros and cons."
Contrary to reports, Bishop also was willing to go overseas to play in NFL Europe last year. Lartigue said Bishop had told former Vice President of Player Personnel Bobby Grier that he was willing to go, but Belichick wanted Bishop to stay and learn the offense that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was implementing.
The timing also is better now because Bishop has had a year learning the Patriots system. Lartigue said questions about Bishop's understanding of Weis' scheme were ridiculous. He said Bishop knows the entire offense, not just the handful of plays designed specifically for the quarterback.
While Lartigue feels it would be a good opportunity for Bishop to showcase his talent, he added that he would not force the quarterback to go. The obvious risk for Bishop going overseas is the chance of getting injured, but it also would provide him a chance to be in charge of an offense for an entire season.
Bishop's most extensive action has come in the preseason. In eight regular-season games this season he completed 3-of-9 passes for 80 yards, including a 44-yard Hail Mary pass to Tony Simmons that helped New England to a win over Indianapolis in Week Six.
Lartigue said the only disappointment for Bishop thus far is that the quarterback has not been able to run regular offensive plays. Most of the action Bishop had in 2000 was in either short-yardage or Hail Mary situations. His rushing totals were seven attempts for minus-1 yard.
"He wants to show he can run the offense, and not just run ineffective option plays," Lartigue said. "It's one thing to try and run the option against college athletes, but it's much different against players on defense at this level. That's the only disappointing thing."
The most action Bishop saw in one game came on the final offensive series of New England's Week Seven 34-17 loss to the New York Jets. He started the series with a 24-yard pass to Troy Brown and also completed a 12-yard pass to Kevin Faulk on a fourth-and-10 play. However, several of his attempts were Hail Mary's, including an interception by New York's Aaron Glenn.
Bishop is currently working out in Houston. If he does wind up playing in NFL Europe, he would report to camp in Tampa on March 13. All quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and centers report on that date, while the rest of the players report on March 19.