Alex Smith is due back from his honeymoon later this week, and at that point the 49ers' fuzzy quarterback situation should get into focus. With Smith on the far side of the world, contract negotiations have been difficult. When he gets back, there will be roughly two weeks to rework his contract before the 49ers hold their first minicamp. The 49ers will not allow Smith to participate in the camp under his current contract.
The first question is whether Smith, who had surgery in late October to have a nettlesome piece of bone removed from his shoulder, would be able to participate in the minicamp anyway. The answer is, yes. Smith's throwing arm was not yet back to normal when he left for his honeymoon, but it was progressing nicely. The 49ers have little doubt his throwing arm will be back to full strength. The fracture that occurred just before the season had nothing to do with the mechanics of his shoulder. Now that the offending piece of bone has been removed, Smith no longer has the pain he experienced last summer and his confidence has grown. Smith also has grown. I hear he's at 225 pounds.
Smith must rework his contract in order to remain with the 49ers. Both sides believe that will ultimately happen, but there is still enough doubt to make the 49ers uneasy. The 49ers would have liked to have had resolved Smith's contract by the start of free agency and before Smith left on his honeymoon. What kind of leverage does Smith, who hasn't played in a meaningful game for a year and a half, have? For one, the 49ers only have two quarterbacks - Shaun Hill and Damon Huard - who are certain to take part in the March minicamp, and recent actions suggest the 49ers don't have full confidence in Hill.
It's also likely that other teams would take a run at Smith if the 49ers are forced to release him. Which teams? This is purely a guess at this point, but Tampa Bay was interested in Smith in 2005 and they have plenty of questions at quarterback. Bill Parcells liked Smith coming out of college, and the Dolphins certainly have room for another QB. Scott Linehan knows Smith and tried to recruit him at Louisville. Linehan could use a quarterback or two in Detroit. (Rumor alert: I'm hearing that the reason Linehan turned down the 49ers' OC job was because he balked at the 49ers' insistence that he commit to multiple years).
And what about the 49ers' leverage? They've made no secret that they want Smith back, but Scot McCloughan also has said that he won't let Smith's contract override the best interest of the team. If the negotiations with Smith's agent drag on, look for the 49ers to bring in another veteran quarterback. The best one out there should be familiar to 49ers fans - Jeff Garcia. Garcia turned 39 last month, but he had a delayed start in the NFL and has played only 10 full seasons. He finished 2008 in Tampa Bay with a 90.2 passer rating, the third straight season he has been above 90 in that category. There also would be a nice bit of poetry in someone beginning and ending his career in the same spot.
-- Matt Barrows