Niners optimistic Smith will return in 2009

The 49ers want quarterback Alex Smith to return to the club in 2009. Smith said he wants to return. Therefore, the only thing that will keep that from happening is the 49ers’ ability to work out a contract agreement with Smith’s agent, Tom Condon.

After numerous conversations over the past month with people in and around the 49ers, including Smith, all signs point to the 49ers making a concerted effort to retain Smith for at least another season. Smith is signed for two more years, but his contract calls for him to earn unrealistic base salaries of $9.625 million in 2009 and $15.05 million in 2010.


Smith and his agent know that no team in the league is going to pay him that kind of money. The 49ers will want to slash Smith’s salary, to be sure. But the 49ers still have every reason to want to give Smith a chance to prove whether he is capable of being a productive NFL starter. Smith is young enough to turn his career around. He turns 25 in May.


The organization is optimistic Smith, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, will remain with the club and build on the improvements he showed during his only full season as the starter.


As a rookie in 2005, Smith completed 50.9 percent of his passes with one touchdown and 11 interceptions. As a second-year player, Smith took every snap. He completed 58.1 percent with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 2006.


Smith started the first four games of the 2007 season but sustained a separated shoulder on the third play of the fourth game. He made an ill-advised attempt to return to action. He has not played in a regular-season game since Nov. 12, 2007, against the Seahawks.


Smith did not play in 2008 after sustained a small fracture to his right shoulder before the season opener. By that time, Smith had lost the starting job to J.T. O’Sullivan. Smith was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 10.


Smith has been throwing lightly the past couple weeks as part of his rehab, according to the 49ers. He appears to be on schedule to take part in full offseason activities.


Prior to the season, 49ers GM Scot McCloughan said Smith would not return to the 49ers if Smith did not head into 2009 as the starter. What McCloughan should have said is that Smith would not return to the 49ers under his current contract if he did not prove himself as the team’s starter. McCloughan is solidly in Smith’s corner. Mike Nolan might have had “the trigger” and selected Smith with the top pick, but McCloughan wanted Smith, too.


There is some uncertainty about the 49ers’ QB situation. Coach Mike Singletary has declined to name Shaun Hill as the starter for 2009. He said he does not want to make that commitment because he is unsure if the 49ers will acquire a starting-caliber quarterback in the offseason – via free agency or the draft.


The onus would certainly be on Smith to clearly win a quarterback competition against Hill, who has a 7-3 record as a starter. But if Smith remains on the team, he would ultimately get a chance to prove himself.


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I tried to post this link earlier in the day, but I messed it up. So I’ll try it again. If you have interest in keeping on top of what’s going on at the Senior Bowl practices, check out the blog from NFL Draft Pros.


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