49ers turning to Stone

<P>The 49ers had eyes for free-agent guard Chris Naeole, but they were just too enamored with Ron Stone to make Naeole an offer.

So Naeole made the Niners an offer late last week, and when the team didn't bite, he signed a seven-year deal over the weekend with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With Stone in the picture, the Niners weren't concerned Naeole was falling out of the picture at the team's only unsettled starting position for 2002. The Niners are expected to have Stone in for a visit as soon as today and the team will make a strong push to assemble an attractive package for the two-time Pro Bowl guard as their final focused effort in free agency before the April 20 NFL Draft.

The Niners still have money under the cap to maneuver for one more quality free agent, but Stone's asking price is expected to be more than the team would like to spend. The Niners are looking to replace 39-year-old Ray Brown at left guard and would like to do it with an economical free agent or perhaps new talent from the draft.

Naeole received an $800,000 signing bonus from Jacksonville as part of a deal that will pay him an average of slightly less than $1 million over the first three years of his contract. Those numbers seemingly would have worked perfect for the Niners, so perhaps they are willing to extend themselves more financially to get a player of Stone's quality. The next few days will be key if an agreement can be reached.

Stone already has met with Atlanta and Cleveland and is expected to make a decision this week.


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