Stokes must restructure to stay

Niners coach Steve Mariucci and general manager Terry Donahue met with J.J. Stokes on Tuesday as the organization continues to work on an agreeable situation that would keep the veteran receiver on the team for the 2002 season.</P>

 For that to happen, Stokes will have to restructure his contract and take a considerable cut from the $3.75 million salary he is scheduled to receive this year. Stokes salary cap figure for 2002 is almost $5 million, and there is no way a figure even approaching that number fits into San Francisco's plans.

 The Niners would like to resolve Stokes' situation before the draft, where the team is seriously considering selecting a receiver with one of its first two selections. But Donahue said that if the team did take a receiver early, it would not be related to Stokes' situation, where a resolution is not immediately imminent.

 "There's a possibility we could (reach an agreement with Stokes before the draft)," Donahue said. "We haven't eliminated that thought. I don't really believe that it's vital that we do that. If we do that, great. If we don't, we think we're fine. But I think there's a chance that we could come to some understanding between now and the draft."

 Donahue and Mariucci both reiterated that the Niners would like to have Stokes with the team in 2002, despite the receiver's limited success in recent seasons, particularly last year when he took over from Jerry Rice as San Francisco's No. 2 receiver opposite top target Terrell Owens.

 "J.J.'s heart is here with our team and in San Francisco and playing for Steve (Mariucci)," Donahue said. "I think that's what he wants to do. Our heart is having J.J. Stokes back on our team. We have a distance to go before we can reach a number that everybody can live with. But we're going to continue to work real hard between now and the draft and after the draft to get J.J. Stokes back in the locker room.

 "If we can do that, that's what we're going to do. If we can't do that, I feel relatively certain that we have a couple of other plans that we'll execute that will allow us not to have to rely on a draft pick to be a wide receiver."

Niners Digest Top Stories