Stokes' future unclear

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:47 AM ET

For a time yesterday, it appeared Keith Stokes was ready to take his flamboyant act to Toronto.

By last night, the CFL free agent's destination was back up in the air.

Sources said Stokes reached a verbal agreement on a contract with Argonauts general manager Adam Rita on Friday night but backed out of the deal yesterday.

"I'm not going to know nothing today, but it's winding down," Stokes, 27, said when reached at his home last night.

"By (tomorrow), everybody should know."

Stokes, who became a free agent on Wednesday, has fielded calls from five CFL teams. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who employed his services the last two seasons, are among those in pursuit of his services.

Stokes said he has also talked to the B.C. Lions and Hamilton Tiger-Cats but is believed to be waiting on an offer from the Montreal Alouettes, the team he played two seasons for before joining the Bombers.

The receiver/kick returner could still return to the Blue and Gold, who have made him a standing offer that would pay him as much as $130,000 with incentives in 2006.

"As far I understand, he's still an available free agent that we're talking to," Bombers general manager Brendan Taman said. "But he can't think that offer is going to be there forever. It's a minute-to-minute thing. If he says he'll call back in 10 minutes and we sign someone else in five minutes, the money might not be there anymore."

The Bombers are also chasing Montreal safety Richard Karikari, a non-import who was second in the league in interceptions last year, and if they sign him, there may not be money left for Stokes.

Despite playing a limited role on offence, Stokes led all Bomber receivers in receptions with 58 last year. He had 832 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He also excelled as a kick returner, ringing up 862 yards and a touchdown on 79 punt returns and 1,022 yards on 47 kickoff returns.

It would be curious for Stokes to sign with Toronto, which already employs one of the CFL's leading kick returners in Bashir Levingston.

He has a promise from Bombers offensive co-ordinator Mike Gibson that he would be a big part of the Winnipeg offence if he returns and could even see time backing up Charles Roberts at tailback.

DIFFERENT TUNE

That seems to be lost on Stokes, who told Sun Media recently: "Obviously if I just wanted to return kicks, I would have stayed in Winnipeg."

After saying that on Friday, he was singing a different tune yesterday.

"Of course, Winnipeg is still in the mix," Stokes said. "Everyone is around the same number (financially), so it's just about the best situation for me. Playing time is the thing."

Although he appears to be leaning toward signing somewhere else, Stokes gave no specific reasons why he wants to leave Winnipeg.

"(The Bombers) are going to make a drastic turnaround whether I come back or not," he said. "I know what I'm going to get if I come back there."

Stokes, who represents himself, sounds like he is getting flustered by the free agency experience.

"It's nerve-wracking," he said. "At first it was fun, but now I'm just ready for it to be over with."

AROUND THE LEAGUE: The Edmonton Eskimos acquired import DT Robert Brown and import DB Reggie Durden from the Montreal Alouettes yesterday in exchange for non-import DB Davis Sanchez ... The Lions are looking at signing P/K Paul McCallum, who has spent the last 12 seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders but is unlikely to return after being asked to take a pay cut ... The Lions remain in negotiations with free agent OL Bobby Singh.


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