New deal for Stokes brightens Niners' draft day

Before the NFL Draft even began Saturday morning, the 49ers took care of several circumstances surrounding their draft by signing receiver J.J. Stokes to a new two-year deal that will give the team substantial relief under the salary cap.</P>

Stokes was scheduled to receive a $3.75 million base salary for the 2002 season, but the Niners were able to sign the eighth-year veteran to a contract that will pay him about half that figure this year, though the team did not disclose the financial details of the deal.

"The most exciting thing, in addition to having J.J. back in a 49ers uniform, is the fact that we were able to get him within the salary structure that we felt necessary as we go forward here," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said. "He did take a pay cut from his contract a year ago and from what he was scheduled to make this next year. But it did fit nicely within the structure of what we're trying to do with the salary cap as we look down the road two and three years here."

The deal insures that the 49ers will have enough money under the cap to sign their 10 selections in this year's draft. Last year, the team had to release legendary receiver Jerry Rice after June 1 to free up that kind of money.

Stokes, however, can improve on his reduced salary by reaching incentives in his new deal that would pay him at "a very competitive, high number," Donahue said.

"We're excited about it and he's excited as well," Donahue said. "It was really critical for us to get this done."

The Niners now won't need to restructure the contract of star receiver Terrell Owens, who also is under contract through 2003.

San Francisco had free agent receiver Willie Jackson in for a visit earlier this week as a possible alternative should the team not be able to agree to new contract terms with Stokes, who probably would have been released had he not taken the pay cut. Jackson remains a consideration for the team at receiver, Donahue said.

"It all depends on how the next two days go and where we're at and where he's at," said Donahue, who was considering taking a receiver with a high, first-day pick. "We're going to keep that door open."

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