Quarterback Alex Smith easily could have started over with another team. Instead, he's determined to finish what he started in San Francisco.
The former No. 1 draft pick is staying with the 49ers after agreeing Tuesday to a restructured contract that sharply reduces his base salary.
Smith was due to make nearly $10 million in the upcoming season under the deal that he signed in 2005. The 49ers now have Smith under contract for the next two years at a salary more commensurate with his four up-and-down years with the team, although the exact details of the deal weren't disclosed.
"I don't measure myself in my contract in terms of what I'm making," said Smith, who missed most of the past two seasons because of arm injuries. "Having gone through what I've gone through the last couple of years, and being on the sideline, I guess I've got a different perspective on this game. When it came time to restructure the contract, it wasn't anything to do with ego. I just wanted the chance to compete."
Smith hasn't been fully healthy since shortly after a promising 2006 season during which he took every snap for the 49ers. His shoulder problems, which began with a sack early in the 2007 campaign, stoked a periodic feud with former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan and seriously hampered both men's careers.
Smith, whose honeymoon in the Maldives delayed negotiations on his new deal, still believes he can live up to the promise that compelled the 49ers to choose him at the top of the notoriously flimsy 2005 draft ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Braylon Edwards, DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman.
"Alex expressed a deep interest to remain with the team, and that feeling was mutual," said 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan, a longtime Smith supporter who acknowledged that he would have been forced to release the quarterback before training camp without a reworked deal.
|Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images|
|QB Alex Smith has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play during his four seasons with the 49ers.|
Smith reflected Tuesday on his tumultuous times before and after San Francisco made him the No. 1 pick, recalling how he felt swept up in a whirlwind after he led the University of Utah to a perfect record and a Fiesta Bowl victory in the 2004 college season. Coach Urban Meyer's offense turned Smith into a consensus top prospect, and he left the Utes one year early to take advantage.
Although he anticipated the pressure and scrutiny of being a top pick, Smith was less prepared for abrupt adulthood. Practically overnight, he went from being an economics major sharing a house in Salt Lake City to a multimillionaire with a hilltop home in Silicon Valley and heavy expectations from a long-suffering fan base.
"I'm just much more mature mentally, not to say I was immature," said Smith, who turns 25 in May. "I just think I've grown up a lot. I have a better outlook on it mentally, a better strength. My life outside of football is in a better place."
Smith had his darkest times after he attempted to return too quickly from his shoulder injury in 2007. His struggles opened a rift with Nolan, with each accusing the other of misunderstanding the injury.
Smith underwent shoulder surgery after the season, but he then broke a bone elsewhere in his shoulder last year. He didn't play at all last season, undergoing more surgery in October to clean up his shoulder.
The restructured contract allows Smith to join the 49ers on Monday for their first offseason team meetings and a minicamp next weekend under Jimmy Raye, San Francisco's fifth offensive coordinator in the quarterback's five seasons. Smith, who believes his oft-injured shoulder is healthy enough for the minicamp, couldn't have participated in the workouts without a new contract because of insurance liabilities.
After Mike Singletary replaced Nolan as the 49ers' coach midway through last season, Smith became more outspoken about his desire to stay in San Francisco. Smith has passed for 4,679 yards in 32 career games with the 49ers, throwing 19 touchdown passes and 31 interceptions.
"There's definitely a different feeling around the facility with coach Singletary here, and some of the people he's brought in," Smith said. "It's pretty easy to see when you're out here, especially when I think back to my first few years and what was going on out here. Top to bottom, I think we're headed in a better direction. I really feel like we're close, and when you look at last season and what happened with Arizona, it's just a good example of what can happen."
After the 49ers' pursuit of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner was rebuffed last week, Smith is expected to head into training camp in competition for the starting job with Shaun Hill, who is 7-3 as a starter over the past two seasons. San Francisco also signed veteran quarterback Damon Huard last week.
Smith is looking forward to the friendly competition with Hill, who served as a groomsman in Smith's wedding Feb. 21 in San Francisco.
"Shaun has played well, and we're really good friends," Smith said. "He's done a really good job in there, that's obvious. I'm glad it's against Shaun. He's a great guy. I can't think of a better guy to compete against. With me and him, it'll all be on the table."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press