Mark May's brief courtship with the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League came to an abrupt end yesterday morning when the offensive tackle signed a four-year contract to stay with the Washington Redskins.

"It came down to where I wanted to play," said May, a four-year veteran and one of 13 Redskins who became free agents Feb. 1. "It really didn't come down to dollars and cents . . . I'm secure here, at home here . . . I'm very happy right now."

May came to an agreement with the Redskins the morning after returning from a visit to the Generals' Orlando, Fla., training camp. He said he was "very impressed" with the Generals, but was not close to signing with them.

"I'd say it was 60-40, 40 being going there (to the USFL)," he said. "Before I went down there, there was about a 20 percent chance I'd go there."

The Generals, who have just signed Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, offered May an estimated $400,000 a year. May made $160,000 in base salary last season; the Redskins originally offered him about $180,000 for next season, which was believed to be the minimum they had to offer to retain their rights to him.

May and Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard refused to comment on the amount of May's new contract, but estimates put it at $1.2 million for four years.

May sent out conflicting signals on exactly what he is worth to the Redskins. He said his new salary is within the Redskins' pay scale, which, among offensive linemen, ranges roughly from guard Ken Huff's $250,000 for the 1985 season to tackle Joe Jacoby's $160,000.

All-pro guard Russ Grimm similarly weighed a four-year, $1 million USFL offer a year ago from the now-defunct Pittsburgh Maulers, then re-signed with the Redskins for four years and a reported "more than $1 million."

"I'm sure if I had come in and demanded something outrageous, they would have let me go," May said of the Redskins, whom he joined as a first-round NFL draft pick in 1981 when Grimm, his University of Pittsburgh teammate, came on the third round.

Yet he also said, when asked about the $400,000 offer, that, "with incentives," his new salary is "in that neighborhood."

Beathard said May's decision was not predicated on money. "If the figure in the newspapers is true ($400,000), it sure means money isn't everything. He wants to stay here . . . he's a big part of this team."

Yet indications as recent as two days ago were that May felt just the opposite. In addition to the money, he said during his visit to Orlando that the USFL was "a challenge, and I love a challenge."

He also reportedly liked the idea of playing in the New York area, where endorsements "could have come close to matching" his salary offer, May said yesterday.

"That was one of the points almost swaying me," he said. As for the challenges, he admitted a few still lurk at Redskin Park.

"It's going to be a challenge here . . . but not as much as in the other league. Going to the Super Bowl again, that's a challenge."

Negotiations between May and the Redskins had been ongoing since the weekend, when the original offer was made. "After the first offer, you go back and forth," May said. "It wasn't really a give-and-take situation. We made a proposal, Bobby made a proposal, and we found a happy medium.

"The agreement keeps both parties happy."

The first offer did not do that. May said it "would have been tough" to stay in Washington on $180,000 per year.

"I could have made the change, but everything here is steady, smooth and on the rise. When I look back, I will think this is the best for me."

Although the Generals, bankrolled by the expansive pocketbook of Donald Trump, offered the excitement of blocking for Flutie and another Heisman winner, Herschel Walker, May decided to stick with the Hogs.

"I've blocked for some of the best ever," he said. "There was really nothing to leave for."