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Harbaugh insists Smith was 49ers' man all along

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh insists the 49ers planned to have Alex Smith as their quarterback even while they examined the possibility of signing then-free agent Peyton Manning.

Harbaugh ended his weekly meeting with reporters on Wednesday by addressing what he says is the "erroneous perception that we were flirting with Peyton Manning."

Harbaugh called the reports silly and phony, then spoke at length about his and the team's ongoing support for Smith, who last season helped the 49ers reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

"I've said it all along, Alex Smith has been our quarterback," Harbaugh said. "There's no scenario other than Alex choosing to sign with another team that we would have considered him not as our quarterback. It's time to set the record straight.

"Alex Smith is our quarterback, was our quarterback and (we) had every intention of always bringing him back."

San Francisco was among a handful of teams looking at Manning, an 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

At one point, Harbaugh and other team officials flew to North Carolina to watch Manning work out on the Duke campus.

Manning chose the Denver Broncos, telephoning Harbaugh personally to inform him of his decision.

Harbaugh, though, said the 49ers were only examining Manning and that their interest in him didn't go much further than that.

Smith, who met briefly with the Miami Dolphins, wound up signing a three-year, $33 million contract to remain in San Francisco only a few days after Manning agreed to a $96 million, five-year contract with the Broncos.

"Were we out there seeing, evaluating if we could have them both? Heck yeah," Harbaugh said. "You evaluate that, you eliminate the possibility. We would not have given any player out there in free agency a sixth of our salary cap and let six or seven of our own guys go. Hopefully, that sets the record straight. You don't have to keep reporting the silliness or phoniness.

"There was interest (in Manning) and we evaluated it, pursued it, further evaluated it and there was conversations. But there was nothing said to Alex that was not said to Peyton Manning or in house here, on the record or off the record. Both those young men knew exactly what our intentions were."

Smith was caught off-guard when asked about the topic Wednesday, something he first talked about when he signed his new contract in late March.

"Yeah a little bit, a little surprised," said Smith, grinning.

Smith, the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, had completed practice and was working out with a few teammates in the 49ers' on-field weight room when Harbaugh made his comments. The 49ers coach later walked over and knelt beside Smith, who smiled as the two men spoke.

"Coach Harbaugh, from the day I've been here, has been completely honest," Smith said. "I certainly felt like this was my job to compete for, no question. I feel like what we accomplished last year that I deserved that."

Smith said the team had been upfront with him regarding its intentions with Manning and that the two sides remained in contact throughout the entire process.

"I mean, a month prior to any of the Peyton Manning stuff (they) had been negotiating with me to come back and (sign) a new contract," Smith said. "When that arose, they were honest. I knew they were going to see him, check him out, do their due diligence."

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