49ers on guard this week

This is the week the 49ers will settle their unsettled situation at left offensive guard. They began spinning the wheels toward some resolution on Monday when they visited with free-agent guard Chris Naeole. Next up for conversation is 17th-year veteran Ray Brown, the incumbent at the position.

Brown has a tentative offer from the team, but it is substantially less than the $2.4 million his contract calls for this year. That figure includes a $500,000 bonus that is due at the end of this week. Brown's bonus originally was due March 1, but he and his agent, Steve Baker, reached an agreement with the team to push the due date ahead one month for both sides could review all options. That agreement allowed the Niners to keep the 39-year-old Brown on the roster and also gave Baker an opportunity to look into better offers and trade possibilities.

The Niners are looking to retain Brown for a deal in the $1 million range, a figure that would include his bonus. Brown, who will turn 40 during the upcoming season, also is considering retirement.

Naeole is the latest of several quality free-agent guards to come through the doors at the Niners' Santa Clara headquarters. A starter the past four seasons in New Orleans, Naeole was the Saints' first-round pick and the 10th player chosen overall in the 1997 NFL Draft.

The Niners also have had guards Mike Wahle, Frank Middleton and Matt Joyce in for visits this month. But each of those three players re-signed with the teams they played with last season. That could end up being the case with Brown. But the Niners want to get younger at the position, and it has become clear they have set a price for the position, which probably was lower than what was being sought by Wahle, Middleton and Joyce. It clearly is lower than what Brown is seeking.

If the Niners decide not to retain Brown this week, it could significantly alter their approach to an offensive line that started the same five players in back-to-back seasons for the first time in a decade in 2001.

The 49ers could move left tackle Derrick Deese back to his natural position of guard - where he started for the 1994 team that won San Francisco's last Super Bowl - and that possibility would free the team to look for either a tackle or guard in the draft or free agency.

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