In a few weeks, or even days, it will all seem like a dream.
For a few moments, it appeared everything would change for the 49ers … and then it didn’t.
Now, with Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers reconciled with the quarterback returning to the team with a new three-year, $24 million deal, the Niners are right back where they were a week ago.
Smith is at quarterback, coach Jim Harbaugh is expressing confidence in him, teammates are saying they’re happy Smith has returned -- and that Peyton Manning guy is far, far away, literally and figuratively.
Smith may have some bruises, but we’re likely never to see them. This is, after all, a guy who keeps bouncing back in his career, becoming stronger each time he’s doubted. At 27, he’s seemingly had the career of a 37-year-old.
Tuesday night, as the team and Smith were busy finalizing the details of the new deal, Harbaugh told reporters his relationship with Smith hadn’t been harmed by the Niners’ courtship of Manning.
“Strong relationship as always,” he told the Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows. “Nothing’s changed.”
When Smith speaks publicly, expect to hear the same thing. Nothing’s changed. He’s back where he always wanted to be. What happened, happened. Time to move on.
Said 49ers tight Vernon Davis, in a text message to the NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi after hearing the news Smith is returning: “Oh, I’m excited. I’m glad. Alex deserves all good things that come his way.”
So, a quarterback who led his team to a 13-3 record, the NFC West title and the NFC Championship Game, is back. On the surface, the only things different are the additions of two receivers for him to throw to, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, both signed last week.
Perhaps, wrote Mark Purdy of the Bay Area News Group, the whole Manning circus – which he says created a “lot of gossipy flutter that turned out to be wasted energy” – will turn out in the long run to be a positive.
“Thanks to Smith’s return and the signings of Moss and Manningham, the 49ers now have a chance to be a better team next season – even if winning 13 games again will be more difficult against a tougher schedule,” wrote Purdy. “But I also think the 49ers will have an even tougher quarterback to attempt it, if Smith handles this correctly with just the right amount of well-directed snarl.”
The big questions of free agency now have been answered. Smith is back, the secondary is intact, the receiving corps has been upgraded.
That whole Manning courtship and the “what ifs” it generated will soon seem as if it never happened.
The positivity readings from Camp Harbaugh dipped a bit, but now are back where they were.
“I can see these guys dominating for the next decade,” former 49ers standout running back Roger Craig told reporters Tuesday, after news of Smith’s return broke. “The kind of intangibles Harbaugh brings to the table, he’s very competitive and a smart guy and players believe in him, and just look how Alex stepped up his game.”