Morton in mix at receiver? Stokes future?

The 49ers reportedly are interested in free agent Johnnie Morton, the Detroit Lions' leading receiver the past two seasons who could give San Francisco the strong complement to Terrell Owens the team didn't get last year from veteran J.J. Stokes.

Morton was released by the Lions last Thursday in a cost-cutting move, one day before he was due a $1 million bonus.

Morton, a USC product, is interested in returning to California and also playing in the Niners' West Coast offensive system that was implemented in Detroit last season by former 49ers offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, now the Lions' head coach.

Several teams are interested in Morton, an eight-year veteran, but the Niners and Green Bay Packers apparently are at the top of his list. Acquiring Morton is an intriguing possibility for the Niners, who did not get the kind of production they would have liked in 2001 from Stokes and No. 3 receiver Tai Streets. Stokes had 54 receptions for 585 yards and seven touchdowns as the starter opposite Owens, and the team certainly expects better numbers from a player who is scheduled to earn a $3.75 million salary in 2002.

If a deal for Morton can be worked out, the Niners may dump Stokes and his huge salary, fitting the remaining amortized bonus money from the seven-year contract he signed in 1999 as dead money under their cap this year. After three seasons of making $400,000, $440,000 and $500,000 in base salary, Stokes' deal now jumps into annual salaries that the Niners have no intention of paying. His salary climbs to $4.25 million in 2003, $5 million in 2004 and $5.5 million in 2005.

Stokes was not asked to restructure his contract in February when the Niners requested numerous veterans to restructure so they could get underneath the NFL's 2002 salary cap of $71.1 million. That could be an indication the team isn't currently planning on guaranteeing his salary, and Stokes will certainly be asked to take a considerable pay cut if he hopes to remain with the Niners this season.

Niners Digest Top Stories