SAN FRANCISCO -- After the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't welcome back Marvel Smith this winter, the veteran offensive tackle decided he'd continue his career near his most faithful supporters.
Smith agreed to a two-year deal Monday to return to his native Bay Area with the San Francisco 49ers, who expect him to be their starting right tackle.
Smith spent nine years as a stalwart on the Steelers' offensive line, starting 108 regular-season games and earning two Super Bowl rings. But he felt like an afterthought in Pittsburgh when injuries limited him to 17 games over the past two seasons. He missed all but the first five games of last year's run to the NFL title with a back injury that required surgery in late November, and the Steelers didn't want him back this season.
"The way I see it, they went and won the Super Bowl with the line that they had, and it's a group of young guys that they feel they can build upon," said Smith, who made the Pro Bowl in 2005. "I'm actually glad not to be going back, to tell you the truth, because I couldn't see a situation better than the one I have right now."
When Smith went shopping for a new home, his priorities were simple.
"If I was going to where I wanted to be, it was definitely going to be on the West Coast," said Smith, an East Oakland native whose entire extended family lives in the Bay Area.
"I didn't want to necessarily go play in the snow somewhere else at the end of my career, really," said Smith, who lives in the Los Angeles area in the offseason. "Everybody's really excited. It's crazy how many phone calls I've been getting from people I haven't talked to in years. I grew up in Oakland, so my family was all Raider fans growing up, but they're all 49er fans now."
Smith was determined not to let his back problems end his career. After surgery to repair a disk fragment, he has been working out every week since the surgery, finishing his rehabilitation and preparing to join the 49ers' offseason program next Monday.
Smith played his first three seasons at right tackle in Pittsburgh before moving to left tackle for the past six.
"I've got the whole offseason to get back into the groove of playing on the right side," Smith said. "I don't really see it being that big of a deal."
San Francisco also decided not to wait until the draft to find a starting tackle for the upcoming season. Although the club probably still has interest in tackle prospects Andre Smith and Michael Oher, the Niners' most glaring need -- for a bookend opposite left tackle Joe Staley -- already has been solved if Marvel Smith's back holds up.
"To me, it's a real young team that's on the verge of taking off and being one of the better teams in the league, and I definitely want to be a part of that," said Marvel Smith, who was wowed by coach Mike Singletary. "Everything it seems like they have set in place is geared towards being a physically dominant team on the field, and that's the exact type of team I love playing for."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press