Bye bye Bashir

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Keith Stokes finally is coming to Toronto.

A deal that had apparently fallen through between the versatile returner and the Argos on Saturday came to fruition yesterday. It's expected to be officially announced today.

Stokes played the last two years in Winnipeg and had a standing offer to return to the Blue Bombers. He had also had discussions with Montreal, where he played for the first two years of his career before being traded to Winnipeg.

"It just felt like it was the right decision for me to make (to sign with Toronto)," he said in a phone interview yesterday. "Everybody I talked to said it's a great organization. I'm not saying Winnipeg wasn't a good organization. It was good to me. In the end, it's about business. It just seems where I need to be at this point in my career and my life."

Playing in Toronto will allow him to be closer to his off-season home in Montreal and his two-year-old daughter.

"That played a factor," Stokes said. "Being away from her in Winnipeg was tough last year. I got to see her a little bit, but being closer will be a lot better for me. If we get two or three days off, I can drive back (to Montreal) or take the train. If I was in Winnipeg, I can't do that.

"There's some things (in life) you can't understand -- it just is -- and this is one of them. Everybody's offer was basically the same, give or take $5,000 or $10,000."

Stokes posted single-season career highs for catches (58) and receiving yards (832) last season. Three of his catches were for touchdowns. He had 79 punt returns for 862 yards and one touchdown, and 47 kick returns for 1,022 yards.

Stokes's addition will almost certainly lead to the exodus of Bashir Levingston, who is one of his friends. The two were roommates when they tried out for Miami in 2003. Levingston is arguably the most dangerous returner in the league and clearly the best returner the Argos have had since the retirement of Pinball Clemons in 2000. Unlike Stokes, Levingston hasn't been able to demonstrate his versatility other than as a returner despite repeatedly asking.

The Argos told Levingston about two weeks ago they wanted to restructure his contract, suggesting a pay cut from his salary of $125,000 a year.

"I'm happy for Stokes, he's my boy, that's cool for him," Levingston said. "That's the way the game goes. I'd appreciate it if I get my release as soon as possible. No hard feelings. I'll play somewhere and still be productive and still be the best at what I do."


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