The 49ers have a lot of decisions to make this offseason, including which of their 19 free-agent players to retain and which to let go.
Chief among those free agents is quarterback Alex Smith, an unrestricted free agent who signed a one-year deal this past summer to return to San Francisco for his seventh NFL season.
It turned into a beautiful arrangement for both, with Smith having the best season of his career. His 90.7 quarterback rating was his best by far – far greater than his career rating of 76.4 – and his ratio of TD passes to interceptions (17-5) was by far his best. He also had career highs in completion percentage (61.3), yards (3,144), completions (273) and rushing yards (179).
During the season, the 49ers indicated they would love to bring Smith back. When coach Jim Harbaugh was asked in December if he believed Smith is the long-term quarterback for the Niners, Harbaugh answered, “I do.”
And this week Smith said he’s also eager to stay a 49er.
“At this point I love it here,” Smith told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Love what’s going on. Love this team and coaching staff, everything about it. So no question I’d love to stay here.”
Smith received $4 million for his one-year deal to play this past season. In December, Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com speculated that Smith might be in line for a two- or three-year contract worth $8 million to $11 million. After leading the 49ers into the NFC Championship Game, however, those numbers might be low.
This week, Smith spoke about a range of topics on local radio, 95.7 the Game in San Francisco, including coming back to the 49ers.
He said he’s eager to stay with the 49ers and believes he’s “on the same page with coach Harbaugh and (GM) Trent (Baalke) and moving forward.”
“Obviously with the season ending I hadn’t had time as far as getting into negotiations or anything like that," he said. "I think that will happen in the weeks coming.”
Smith also was asked what he would think if the 49ers went in a different direction in the offseason to bring in a new quarterback, specifically mentioning the Colts’ Peyton Manning who, after sitting out the entire season with an injury, may not be in Indianapolis’ plans this season as they restructure under a new GM and coach.
“I guess I haven’t even thought about that,” Smith told the station. “If they went after a Peyton Manning, obviously that’s Peyton Manning, you know? It would make the decision-making a little different, but I’m not thinking about it at this point.”
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, however, doesn’t believe the Manning-to-San Francisco speculation carries much weight. Though the 49ers offer an intriguing option for Manning if he wants a shot at a Super Bowl, the Niners need to make a decision fairly fast on whether to re-sign Smith, or risk losing him – and having no quarterback at all. Wrote Florio:
“Here’s where it gets tricky for the 49ers. With starting quarterback Alex Smith due to be a free agent on March 13 and the Colts not forced to make a decision on Manning until March 8, the 49ers could lose Smith if they don’t move quickly on Manning, who may not be fully healthy at that point.”
Smith said he’s confident a deal to stay in a 49ers uniform is coming.
“I think we’ll kind of take our time a little bit,” he told Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee. “I think I have till March 13 or something, when the (current) contract’s up. But I think sooner than later, no question.”