Contract "talks are going on" between the 49ers and Alex Smith's representatives, according to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. He and the 49ers have one week to work new deals with players like Smith whose contracts are set to run out at the end of the day on March 3.
Harbaugh has been consistently complimentary of Smith since becoming the 49ers' head coach and he continued to laud Smith at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "I very much like Alex. I like being around Alex," Harbaugh said. "I had an opportunity to evaluate the tape, and I think he's a very good football player. That being said, we're going to make the decision to bring in the best quarterbacks that we possibly can to compete for the starting quarterback job. I'm hopeful that Alex, an unrestricted free agent, will choose that his next team he plays with, the fresh start, is with the San Francisco 49ers."
Smith may indeed end up returning to the 49ers. However, neither he nor any of the team's soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, a group that includes center Davis Baas and linebackers Takeo Spikes, Manny Lawson and Travis LaBoy, are likely to sign a deal before March 3. Doing so would prevent them from taking part in a full free-agency period should a new collective bargaining agreement get hammered out in coming weeks.
Harbaugh's scouting-combine experience promises to be vastly different than his 2002 experience with the Raiders when he was an offensive quality control coach. Back then, his job involved a lot of grunt work and a lot of computer input. He also was asked to evaluate the quarterbacks.
I asked Harbaugh about his evaluation of David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick that year. His response was preceded by a long pause ... "What my personal evaluation was of him? Yeah, I mean, it was good. Good player coming out of Fresno State. It was good."
According to a source, Harbaugh rated Carr as a sixth-round pick.
NFL Network's Michael Lombardi also was available to the media. Lombardi is very close to Harbaugh and was a finalist, along with Trent Baalke, for the 49ers' general manager position. Lombardi said the 49ers' No. 1 priority should be a quarterback.
"They obviously could use a quarterback," he said. "I think when you walk into that building and see the five (Lombardi) trophies - they were put there by a quarterback."
Lombardi fielded a number of questions during the session about Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, who may be available through a trade this offseason. Lombardi had implied that he didn't think Kolb was worth the second- and fifth-round picks the Eagles received for another quarterback, Donovan McNabb, but that all it would take was two competing teams to drive up Kolb's price tag. I asked if he saw San Francisco being a good spot.
"I think Kevin has to still prove a lot of things that he can still effectively do," Lombardi said. "I know he played well against Atlanta. But I think Andy Reid deserves a lot of credit for how he handled Kevin Kolb and whether the team that takes him will handle him the same way."
-- Matt Barrows