Advance notice of imminent departure

In the latest unmistakable hint that J.J. Stokes won't be a 49er when the 2003 season begins, the team has granted the veteran receiver permission to seek a trade. Though Niners GM Terry Donahue says this development "does not necessarily mean that he won't be back with the 49ers next year," Stokes should take it as a clear message he's no longer in the team's plans and will be released after June 1. By that time, the Niners hope to have a much better handle on their situation at receiver.

In a statement released by the team, Donahue said he recently had an "amicable" meeting with Stokes to deliver the news, which all but guarantees Stokes won't be back with the team this season. The Niners could have asked Stokes if he was interested in coming back at a much lower salary than the $2.25 million he is scheduled to receive in 2003, but the team isn't even interested in restructuring his contract, a strong indication the Niners don't want him back at any price.

That the Niners would publicly announce they have granted Stokes permission to seek a trade at this point is just their way of giving advance notice of his imminent departure. He could still fit in with some team as a productive No. 3 receiver - and perhaps even a starter - but no team is going to trade anything for a player that can be had for free after June 1, when San Francisco can release him and lessen the impact on its 2003 salary cap.

Stokes' best possibility to remain with the team was tied to the status of Tai Streets, a restricted free agent who was receiving some interest around the league. If the Niners could have received a high draft choice Steets - or a comparable offer - they would have signed him and dealt him, thus increasing the possibility that there still would be a spot for Stokes on the roster this season.

But the Niners did not get an offer they felt was fair compensation for Streets - who beat out Stokes as the starter opposite star receiver Terrell Owens this season - and he is all but certain to be back with the team in 2003, though he still has yet to sign his tender offer from the team.

With Cedrick Wilson back to challenge for the No. 3 receiving role this year, the Niners decided to make it clear to all they are severing ties with Stokes, who - despite his imposing size and potential - has been a disappointment to all since becoming the team's No. 1 draft choice in 1995. It also increases the pressure for the Niners to pull out at least one top receiving prospect from the early rounds of the upcoming college draft.

The Niners would love to get a trade offer for Stokes - any offer. Don't expect another NFL team to be so gratuitous.

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