Niners send Stokes on out pattern

Everybody knows that J.J. Stokes just had to go. And, for the past few months, everybody knew that Stokes would be going away as soon as the calendar turned past June 1. But the 49ers had reasons for ending their nine-year relationship with the ninth-leading receiver in team history other than the fact that he might not even be the third-best receiver on the team today and and no longer fit into their plans at the position.

The other reason, of course, is money.

Stokes, who lost his starting job to Tai Streets early last season, was released in a move that will save the Niners $2.25 million against their 2003 salary cap. The Niners need that money to sign their rookie class, and perhaps a veteran free-agent receiver or cornerback between now and the time training camp begins.

"Every team in the league goes through salary decisions," 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said. "We're going through them, too. We're cutting him after June 1 because we need some room to sign our rookies. We have seven draft picks that we've got to get signed and we need cap room to do that."

Stokes' large salary was an easy target for such a move. Stokes had just 32 receptions during an ineffective 2002 season while Streets blossomed as a starter in his place. That was the third time in four years that Stokes had 34 receptions or less since he signed a lucrative deal in 1999 that included a $4.5 million signing bonus.

Stokes, the 10th player selected in the 1995 NFL draft, finished his 49ers career ninth in team history with 327 receptions. He also produced 4,139 yards and 30 touchdowns receiving in 111 games with the team.

Donahue had previously given Stokes permission to seek a trade with other teams and it had been apparent for months the 49ers would release Stokes after June 1 so the cap hit from his contract could be pushed back to 2004. By releasing Stokes on Monday, the Niners will take a hit of almost $2.3 million against their salary cap next year.

"He knows that we appreciate what he's done and how hard he's worked for the 49ers," Donahue said. "He's had an excellent career here. We wish J.J. Stokes well and I think that he will definitely continue to play in the league and do a good job for somebody. We just need to move forward, and he needs to move forward as well."

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