Taman looks ahead

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

Brendan Taman suspected the writing was on the wall when Keith Stokes rejected a lucrative contract offer from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last October.

"It was a bad sign," the Bombers general manager said yesterday, one day after Stokes agreed on a contract with the Toronto Argonauts.

"This is not surprising, but it's disappointing."

The Bombers made the import receiver/kick returner a standing offer of $100,000 per year plus substantial bonuses back in October and left it on the table until the bitter end.

On Saturday, Stokes agreed to a deal with the Argos, only to back out of it later in the day. He then went back to the Bombers and Montreal Alouettes to stir up a bidding war but wound up calling the Argos back on Sunday.

Stokes, for his part, said he preferred Montreal -- where he makes his off-season home and has a two-year-old daughter -- or Toronto, simply because of their locations.

"That played a factor," said Stokes, who represented himself in negotiations.

Stokes, who had a team-high 58 receptions for 832 yards and 2,069 combined return yards last year, saw Toronto as a place where he can be a bigger part of the offence, even though he had a promise from Bomber coaches that he would retain or increase his role in the team's offence in 2006.

"I'm not saying they didn't want me in Winnipeg or Montreal ... it just seems like they felt I could help them more in Toronto," Stokes said, adding that all three offers were similar financially.

With the Stokes signing, Argos kick return specialist Bashir Levingston is almost certain to be available soon -- he could be traded or released -- but the Bombers likely wouldn't be interested, given that he can't play a position. Hamilton and Calgary are more likely to be in the market.

The Bombers will instead turn their attention to some other CFL free agents, like Montreal non-import safety Richard Karikari, Saskatchewan import receiver Elijah Thurmon and, possibly, B.C. non-import offensive lineman Bobby Singh.

Karikari is taking at least another few days to explore NFL options, so Taman's first priority will likely be talking to Thurmon.

"I'd be a fool if I didn't talk to him," Taman said of Thurmon, who had 88 catches for 1,048 yards last year.

"We'll probably have to talk about him a little bit more now that (Stokes) is gone."

BLUE NOTES: Taman is in Toronto for league meetings until Wednesday and then will spend a week and a half in Tampa, Fla., at the NFL Europe training camp.


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