49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

May 31, 2012
When it comes to Alex Smith, contract speaks louder than Harbaugh

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Jim Harbaugh backs Alex Smith 110 percent. We've heard that a million times by now, including during yesterday's out-of-left field rehash by Harbaugh of what he claimed was the 49ers' non-pursuit of Peyton Manning two and a half months ago.

But the real indicator of the relationship is the contract that Smith was very reluctant to sign and finally did only after taking a free-agent visit to Miami. For a starting quarterback who took his team to overtime in the NFC Championship game, it's a modest three-year deal for $24 million that gives the 49ers an easy out after this season.

That is, the 49ers' contractual commitment to Smith in no way matches Harbaugh's effusive praise of Smith.

The quarterback, to his credit, appears to have gotten past that. In fact, from the day he signed the contract, Smith has not raised the slightest gripe about the team's interest in Manning or his ho hum contract. He's been the perfect soldier, falling in lockstep behind Harbaugh and saying all the right things.

Which makes Harbaugh's resurrection of the story all the more peculiar. Why open old wounds when there was every appearance they had healed over and been forgotten? And Smith certainly felt wounded at that time.

According to a source, Harbaugh's trip to Durham, N.C. to watch Manning throw on March 13 was done without the knowledge of Manning's agent, Tom Condon. This explains why the visit was kept quiet for three days and why Smith, who also is a client of Condon's, was initially unaware of the visit.

Harbaugh and Smith today say that they were in constant contact throughout the process and Smith says he knew all about the team's interest in Manning including Harbaugh's trip to North Carolina. On the day he signed his contract, however, Smith was more fuzzy about the details.

"As far as the timeline goes, I'm not sure," he said on March 21 when asked if he knew about Harbaugh's visit ahead of time. "I was right there along with it. Right there when they first started to look into the process of looking at him, they (Harbaugh and Trent Baalke) came over and sat down with me and told me about it."

At the time of the visit, the information was different. Multiple sources said that Smith was upset that week because he didn't know about Harbaugh's trip east. One day after news of Harbaugh's visit broke, Smith boarded a plane to talk with the Dolphins about becoming their quarterback.

Smith yesterday sloughed off that trip off as part of the "business side" or free agency.

"You go around and you see the teams and you weigh your options," he said. "You don't know what those options are until you go look at them sometimes. But for me, this was always the place. I've always said that. This was always the place. Then things happen, and you do play that game a little bit."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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