Alex Smith

Alex Smith, 49ers close to a deal (any minute now)

Update: minutes before I posted this, Michael Lombardi reported it was a done deal. Alex Smith is back, unless Lombardi is wrong.

Over the past few days, the 49ers have been linked to to quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow and Josh Johnson. Now it looks like Alex Smith is probably coming back like everyone figured he would … before Friday, at least. From ESPN:

The San Francisco 49ers and quarterback Alex Smith are in the process of finalizing a deal that will pay the former No. 1 overall pick an average of roughly $8 million per season, sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.

The sources said the sides are finalizing guaranteed money and contract language.

See? Was that so hard?

If this report’s true, all the talk about Smith’s hurt feelings can finally die down. Thank goodness, because absurd doesn’t begin to describe the obsession with whether millionaires are offended. Nothing in professional sports is more overrated than an athlete’s comfort level — otherwise, long-term contracts would work out far more often.

The 49ers are constantly trying to maximize talent and value at every position, and Peyton Manning was available. He was also too expensive and wanted control over gameplans and personnel, and that wasn’t happening in San Francisco.

However, there’s nothing wrong with a little competition. Remember, Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t even commit to Smith as the starter on August 13, 2011:

Q: What’s the current state of the quarterbacks situation? Is there a competition for that starting job?
Harbaugh: “Like we’ve been saying, there’s a competition at every position. And guys are going out and working and competing and learning and getting reps. It’s more of a rep chart than it is a depth chart.”

Q: Your starting quarterback took a number of big hits, does that make you think any harder about bringing in a veteran backup?
Harbaugh: “That’s a possibility.”

Q: What has to happen in order for that to take place?
Harbaugh: “The right person (becoming) available.”

Regardless of the position, Harbaugh and the rest of the organization have made it clear that they’ll never stop searching for the “right person.” Whether that means a more talented player, someone available at the right price, or both, job insecurity is as much a part of NFL life as cleats, helmets and pain injections.

Might the 49ers bring in Johnson as an alternative, even after Smith is eventually re-signed? Sure, if the price is right and they believe he’s better than Scott Tolzein.

Right now, Smith is nearly out of options. Ray Ratto explains it well:

But the alternatives, Miami and Jacksonville, would only represent spite signings, so the real question is not what Smith believes, but what he can endure.

And Smith’s greatest skill as a quarterback is also his greatest skill as an intellect. His clinical thought process.

The Dolphins are hopeless. The Jaguars are worse. The Seahawks are not an option. The Titans have shown no apparent interest.

Miami, more interested in pizzazz than performance, will jump at the chance to trade for Tebow — with David Garrard as insurance. Jacksonville’s another frivolous Florida team who’d love Tebow to have on board, selling tickets and starring on billboards. Tennessee already has Jake Locker, who, like Smith, performed beyond expectations last season but isn’t Peyton Manning.

With Smith back, the 49ers wouldn’t see dramatic improvement at the quarterback position compared to where they were in mid-January, but they should be incrementally better. Smith will be motivated, because he always is. He’ll also have better receivers, more time to prepare with Harbaugh and Greg Roman (which should lead to an expanded playbook in 2012) and a reserve in Colin Kaepernick right behind him who’ll be better than he was back in August. Even after Smith signs, the competition never ends.

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