Question: There was a rumor at this time last year that the Denver Broncos had offered their first-round pick in the 2006 draft for Justin Smiley, who fits their style of offensive lineman. With only a year left on his contract, and not being able to sign him to an extension, are the 49ers actively shopping him prior to the draft ... or should they be shopping Smiley before his contract expires and they receive nothing?
- Justin Mozart, Palo Alto
Answer: OK, first things first. You're right, the Broncos did indeed show interest in Smiley last year, but I can almost assure you they didn't offer a first-round draft pick for him. If they had, Smiley - as would be the case with just about any 49er not named Alex, Vernon or Frank - would have been on an airplane to DIA moments later. A first rounder, in other words, is too steep.
That being said, the 49ers have not been able to work out a long-term deal with Smiley. "Actively shopping" might be too strong a phrase, but they are willing to listen to offers. The team's stance is that Smiley is not the big, mauling type of guard they prefer and that they have a very capable young player - David Baas - waiting in the wings. Smiley and his camp, however, feel they are in a position of strength as well. First, Smiley is one of three offensive linemen whose contracts will expire after this season. (Kwame Harris and Larry Allen are the others.) And second, Baas has not developed as quickly as the 49ers expected when they drafted him two years ago. Smiley showed toughness by playing through a shoulder injury this season, and he is very good on his feet. Many of the 49ers' effective short-yardage plays (and yes, they were few and far between) involved Smiley pulling from his guard position and overloading the other side.
I personally don't feel the 49ers should trade him because I don't feel a team with questionable depth on the offensive line can afford to trade any of its starters. However, if the 49ers feel they are going to be without Smiley next year anyway, they might try to roll the dice.
- Matt Barrows