Alex Smith and the 49ers: What's taking so long?

March 5, 2012, 5:52 pm
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Quarterback Alex Smith wants to be back with the 49ers, and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh certainly wants him back.So what can be so difficult about getting a deal done when both sides want the same thing?There is little doubt around the NFL that Smith will return to the 49ers in 2012. But the negotiations are far more complicated than the simplicity outlined in the first paragraph above.During the regular season, Harbaugh said he believed Smith is an "elite" quarterback. And Smith did everything asked of him while throwing just five interceptions en route to the 49ers' 13-3 regular-season record and appearance to the NFC championship game.REWIND: Alex Smith -- "I'd love to stay here"
On the other hand, the 49ers traded up to select quarterback Colin Kaepernick with the No. 36 overall pick in last year's draft. That's not an action that teams usually take to secure the services of a career backup.So, the 49ers want it both ways.Ideally, they want Smith back on the team in 2012 without extending him with an "elite" contract. They want to keep the door open for Kaepernick to become the starter in the future. And the 49ers don't want to take a financial hit from Smith's contract if a change at quarterback happens sooner than later.As with any contract, the player's side wants the best deal. And in a lot of cases, the better deal can be attained closer to a deadline.REWIND: Harbaugh wants Alex Smith back
If Smith remains unsigned on March 13, he will be free to negotiate with other teams. The 49ers opted to use their franchise tag on safety Dashon Goldson at a projected 6.2 million this season, rather than Smith at approximately 14.4 million on a one-year commitment.But how much attention would Smith get on the open market? Teams might be a little reluctant to negotiate with him because of the perception that all they would be doing is negotiating a deal that Smith would use as a tool to get fair market value from the 49ers.
Sources told late in the season that the 49ers were looking at a two- or three-year contract worth from 8 million to 11 million annually for Smith's services.Meanwhile, agent Tom Condon is likely looking at the extension the Buffalo Bills awarded Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed a reported six-year, 59 million deal with 24 million guaranteed.The average-per-year of nearly 10 million seems reasonable, but the 49ers might be balking at forking over 24 million guaranteed on a long-term contract.Things can happen quickly, and it would be a shock if Smith and the 49ers don't ultimately hammer out an agreement. But those are the issues on why the deal wasn't consummated quickly after the season.