The 49ers don't just have an offer on the table for Alex Smith, as reported by NFL Network and CSN Bay Area, it's been on the table for some time. So what's the hold up? Smith has been exceedingly open about wanting to return to the 49ers while the 49ers - namely, Jim Harbaugh -- have been even more effusive in their desire to have him back. It should have been done by now, right?
According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, the snag is the length of the deal, and with it the amount of guaranteed money. The 49ers are offering a shorter-term deal, believed to be three years. Smith's agent, Tom Condon, is pushing for a longer deal, believed to be five years.
The 49ers' trump card is the same one they use with all of their pending free agents: If you think you can get a better deal on the open market, by all means try to do so.
Does this mean the two parties will go their separate ways? No, it's not even close to that point. With six days to go until free agency begins, this is merely the art of negotiation. There is no need for either side to budge at the moment, and neither side will. As March 13 draws closer, however, expect there to be some sort of compromise from both sides.
Harbaugh, for one, already has said he'd like to get the deal completed as soon as possible. "Definitely as a coach, you worry about a lot of things," he said on Feb. 23. "And when the quarterback's not signed and is a free agent, that leads to some lost sleep."
Let's say that Smith does make it to the open market. Would there be a market for him? Last year the Seahawks, who were in need of quarterback depth and who employ the man, Scot McCloughan, who drafted Smith in 2005, were interested. Seattle's quarterback situation is no more settled now than it was before the 2011 season and McCloughan likely is just as high on Smith (who at 27 is younger than incoming soon-to-be draft choice Brandon Weeden) as he's ever been.
The upcoming frenzy to sign Peyton Manning will make clear which teams are unhappy with their current quarterback situation. What's more, Manning also is represented by Condon, who will be on the phone with general managers and head coaches all week. What's to stop him from gauging interest in Smith while fielding offers for Manning?
At the heart of the matter, however, is mutual attraction. Smith wants to be with the 49ers. That's why he's pressing for a longer deal. The 49ers, meanwhile, want him here. They value him more than any other team, which is why a deal will get done. It just may be later rather than sooner.
-- Matt Barrows