By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff WriterTuesday, April 19, 2005
The San Francisco 49ers apparently plan to choose Utah quarterback Alex Smith with the first selection in the NFL draft Saturday if they can agree to a contract with him in the next few days.
The 49ers intensified negotiations with Smith's agent, Tom Condon, yesterday after informing the representatives of Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers that they favored Smith, a source involved in the discussions said. The 49ers would reevaluate their options around midweek if they're unable to agree to a contract with Smith, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations were at a sensitive stage.
It's not a certainty that the 49ers will be able to strike a deal with Smith, who decided to pass up his senior season and enter the draft after going 21-1 as the Utes' starter the past two seasons. Condon likely will be seeking a contract worth slightly more than the six-year, $45 million deal that he negotiated for last year's top overall draft pick, quarterback Eli Manning, with the New York Giants.
Manning's deal included $20 million in bonus money, plus an additional $9 million in incentives that could push its overall value to $54 million. Condon didn't negotiate that contract with Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi until just before training camp last summer because the club didn't obtain Manning until a draft-day trade with the San Diego Chargers.
A team with the top pick usually likes to agree to a contract prior to the draft with the player that it plans to select, as NFL rules permit. That eliminates the possibility of a contract dispute that might cause the player to report to training camp late and potentially ruin his rookie season. An on-time arrival at training camp would be particularly important to the 49ers, since they don't have a franchise quarterback on their roster and likely would want Smith to receive significant playing time next season. The 49ers went 2-14 last season and fired Dennis Erickson as their coach and Terry Donahue as their general manager, replacing them with Coach Mike Nolan and front-office chief Scot McCloughan.
The 49ers apparently are enamored of Smith's athleticism and intelligence. He had 32 touchdown passes and only four interceptions last season while leading Utah to an undefeated record.
Some NFL talent evaluators regard Rodgers as the more accurate passer and the more polished player, but there is some wariness about him league-wide because none of the former quarterbacking pupils of Cal Coach Jeff Tedford -- including Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller -- has emerged as an NFL star.
The 49ers apparently still could end up selecting Rodgers if they're unable to sign Smith. The club met with its top four draft prospects -- Smith, Rodgers, Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards and Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle -- last week, and has left open the possibility of trading the pick.