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Jags opt for underachieving Stokes - ESPN - 6/17/2003


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Jags opt for underachieving Stokes

By Darrell Trimble

NFL Insider

Tuesday, June 17

Updated: June 17

11:48 AM ET

The Jacksonville Jaguars were desperate to sign a receiver to complement Pro Bowler Jimmy Smith, and that desperation showed when management inked J.J. Stokes to a one-year contract on Monday. The nine-year veteran received a $150,000 signing bonus that pushed the value of his deal with the Jaguars to $805,000. Stokes also could earn more than $300,000 in incentives tied to receptions and playing time.

The contract certainly isn't significant, but then, Stokes' contribution to the passing game probably won't be either. In Stokes, the Jags got a player who never finished with more than 63 catches or 770 receiving yards in a season, and that was on a team that had Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens taking siphoning coverage away from him.

Yet the Jags expect Stokes, who couldn't be productive in the West Coast offense in San Fran, to flip the script and put up numbers in their version of the oft-copied offense.

"We're not expecting the 10th pick in the draft," Jaguars' vice president of player personnel James Harris told the Florida Times-Union. "He's just a quality player who can upgrade our roster."

In Stokes' defense, he may have found it too difficult to be pegged as the eventual successor to Jerry Rice and the high expectations that came with it. When Stokes came out of college as UCLA's all-time leading receiver, he was going to face pressure anywhere he went, but doubly so in San Francisco.

Ironically, Stokes is now a teammate of Kyle Brady, who is partly responsible for the expectations placed on him as a young receiver. It was in the 1995 draft that the New York Jets shocked everyone and took Brady with the ninth overall pick. Bill Belichick, who coveted Brady with the 10th pick, flipped his lid and had a meltdown in the war room, thus allowing the Niners to move up and snatch Stokes. The former Bruin was immediately thrust in the role of being the heir to Rice, a role which he eventually lost to Owens.

Still, even if you buy the shrinking violet excuse, at 30 years old it's probably too late to for him to re-invent himself. But wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey, Stokes' position coach with the 49ers from 1995-99, gave his former pupil a ringing endorsement that convinced the Jaguars to cancel a workout with Oronde Gadsden and ignore Antonio Freeman.

Neither of those wideouts is inimitable with Stokes right now, but Freeman does have a better resume. Freeman played in the West Coast offense and excelled for several years. He has lost a step, but he's accomplished more than Stokes ever has. Freeman has averaged over 1,000 yards over the last seven seasons, and is coming off a 46-catch campaign that saw him rack up 600 yards despite having to catch passes from Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley for almost half the season.

Stokes is an excellent blocker downfield, and he can help in that capacity, but Freeman looked to be the better option.

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