Fiore was due to earn $2 million in salary this season, including a $500,000 roster bonus due at the end of this week. Stubblefield's scheduled salary for 2003 was $2.325 million and he also was due a substantial roster bonus this week.
Fiore underwent his fourth major knee surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sept. 22 against Washington, an injury that ended his season. In his place, rookie Eric Heitmann - the team's seventh-round draft pick in 2002 - performed well and developed nicely. The team also received an unexpectedly strong contribution at guard from rookie Kyle Kosier when he was called upon late in the season due to injuries.
That made Fiore's high cap figure for 2003 a luxury the Niners couldn't afford, and probably felt they could do without anyway.
"Dave's had four knee operations," Donahue said. "That was a major concern. At the financial point he was at, it was very difficult for us to continue to do that."
The play of Stubblefield, an 11th-year veteran, dropped off near the end of the season and he was expected to be a prime candidate to be released because of his contract numbers.
"At times, Dana played very well," Donahue said. "At other times he struggled, particulary toward the end of the year when his weight got higher on him."
Donahue said the Niners also saved approximately $8 million by restructuring the contracts of quarterback Jeff Garcia, defensive end Andre Carter, offensive linemen Scott Gragg and Jeremy Newberry, fullback Fred Beasley and safeties Tony Parrish and Zack Bronson.
"We appreciate their help," Donahue said. "It helps the organization a great deal when they can do that."
The Niners now have money under the NFL's $74.8 million salary cap for 2003 to pursue free agents, though Donahue said the team won't be real active in the free-agent market.