There are still a lot of things that can happen between now and training camp, but boy, it sure seems as if the 49ers are looking at a two-man battle at quarterback between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith. And you can go ahead and sink the notion of adding Mark Sanchez at pick No. 10. I say this after returning from the 49ers' first-ever "state of the franchise" event in San Mateo. It was a fun, festive gathering with lots of fan appreciation and vows to return the franchise to its glory days. Mike Singletary was greeted with a standing O and exited with one, too. (In between he mesmerized the crowd. What else?) But the news from the event centered around quarterbacks.
Asked in a Q&A session about Smith, general manager Scot McCloughan said discussions with Smith's agent to reduce the quarterback's nearly $10 million salary for 2009 "are ongoing and they're very positive discussions." "I still believe he's going to be a good football player in the NFL," McCloughan told the crowd of season ticket holders at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center. "And we'd welcome him back."
Singletary and owner Jed York echoed those sentiments. "I think it's important to look at Alex and not knock him for being the No. 1 pick," York said after the event. "Did he live up to that expectation? He didn't. But when you look at what Alex is trying to accomplish - he's at the facility every day, he's working out, he wants to be here."
Singletary stuck to his guns in praising Hill while also saying that Hill would have to compete for the starting job. With whom would Hill compete? Smith if Smith agrees to a new deal for 2009. "There's going to be competition. He (Smith) will be given an opportunity to compete for that starting spot." Will Smith begin at the same level as Hill, Singletary was asked? "Absolutely," he said. That's news, and perhaps bad news for Hill, who is not a good practice player.
It should also be noted that the 49ers adorned the stage with banners, balloons and a makeshift locker room with lockers belonging to eight players. The eight certainly appear to be those the team considers its star players. They were, from left to right, T Joe Staley, Hill, TE Vernon Davis, RB Frank Gore, CB Nate Clements, LB Patrick Willis, DE Justin Smith and LB Manny Lawson.
Vick is still in federal prison on dogfighting charges, but he is scheduled to be released in July, and the Falcons are shopping his rights. Some teams have come out and said they're not interested in Vick. The 49ers did not flatly shoot down any chance of landing Vick, which is interesting in itself. But again, the theme was that they thought Smith and Hill were the answers for now.
Said Singletary: "I think right now, we really need to look at the two guys we have. If everything works out with Alex and he's back, then we really need to look at that mix and go as far as we can go with that. The whole Michael Vick thing - you just have to sit down and talk about that further. For right now, I think we have enough on our plate."
York said it would be up to Singletary and McCloughan to convince him that Vick deserves a second chance. "It would be up to them to show that somebody who had issues in the past could come and be part of this team. But that's not something we've discussed and I doubt that that will happen."
The Buccaneers don't want the former 49ers quarterback back next season despite his solid 2008 campaign. But Singletary seemed to douse the notion of a reunion. "You're always interested I a guy that can win a football game and Garcia is that kind of guy. But I think the most important thing for us right now is to really look at what makes sense for us right now. When I look at Shaun Hill, I thought he did a great job last year, and I'm not sure how much better (we'd be) bringing a Jeff Garcia in and adding to the mix when you have a guy like Shaun Hill who did what he was able to do last year."
In fact, Singletary seemed pessimistic that the 49ers could bring in a difference maker at quarterback in either free agency or the draft. "In the draft or free agency, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot out there," Singletary said. Asked if that meant he was ruling out a QB - numerous publications have the 49ers selecting USC's Mark Sanchez - with the No. 10 pick, this is how Singletary responded. "You know what, that's something we'd have to talk long and hard about. Actually, yeah, there'd be a lot of conversation on that deal."
-- Matt Barrows