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49ers Are Waiting Till the Last Minute

Smith or Rodgers Is The Expected Choice

By Leonard Shapiro and Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 23, 2005; Page D04

NEW YORK, April 22 -- The San Francisco 49ers seem prepared to play the waiting game with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft on Saturday. They go on the clock at noon, and if they do not receive an offer to their liking, they are expected to select either Utah quarterback Alex Smith or California quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

That's a scenario both quarterbacks said Friday they have been told by their agents to expect. They're also prepared for the possibility the 49ers, 2-14 last year, might go in a different direction under new coach Mike Nolan. A former Redskins and Ravens assistant, Nolan said this week he hasn't told anyone what he plans to do and won't tip his hand.

"It would be awesome to cement my legacy as a Bay Area guy," says Cal's Aaron Rodgers. (Paul Sakuma -- AP)

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Defensive Linemen: Some of the top players don't have a clearly defined position.
Michael Wilbon: The NFL draft is anybody's guess.
Linebackers: Texas's Derrick Johnson and Maryland's Shawne Merriman are the top defenders available.
Secondary: Cornerback Adam Jones is likely to be an early first-round choice.
Wide Receivers: Braylon Edwards and Mike Williams headline an impressive crop.
Running Backs: Three tailbacks are poised to grab the spotlight.
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Despite multiple injuries, Terps' Chris Kelley sets sights on draft.

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_____ First Round Draft Order _____
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Cleveland Browns
4. Chicago Bears
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Tennessee Titans
7. Minnesota (From Oak.)
8. Arizona Cardinals
9. Washington Redskins
10. Detroit Lions
11. Dallas Cowboys
12. S.D. Chargers (From Giants)
13. Houston Texans
14. Carolina Panthers
15. Kansas City Chiefs
16. New Orleans Saints
17. Cincinnati Bengals
18. Minnesota Vikings
19. St. Louis Rams
20. Dallas Cowboys (From Buffalo)
21. Jacksonville Jaguars
22. Baltimore Ravens
23. Seattle Seahawks
24. Green Bay Packers
25. Redskins (From Denver)
26. Oakland Raiders (From Jets)
27. Atlanta Falcons
28. San Diego Chargers
29. Indianapolis Colts
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
31. Philadelphia Eagles
32. New England Patriots

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_____Mark Maske's NFL Insider_____
Decision Time Nears for 49ers (washingtonpost.com, Apr 22, 2005)
Opinions Differ Over Strength of RB Class (washingtonpost.com, Apr 21, 2005)
49ers Shop for Discount on Top Pick (washingtonpost.com, Apr 20, 2005)
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"Of all the teams I visited, [the 49ers] were the hardest to read," Smith said Friday at an NFL luncheon attended by six players, including Rodgers, expected to go early in the first round. "I visited with them five different times. I think they've been smart. I think they're doing a lot of research, and they want to get it right."

A source said early in the week that the 49ers planned to select Smith if they could agree to a contract with him before the draft, but the club was unable to do so and was left reconsidering its options. Smith's agent, Tom Condon, has let it be known he thinks the team has been trying to low-ball his client. Condon did not return telephone calls Friday.

Rodgers's agent, Mike Sullivan, said he also has talked with the 49ers and has in place reasonable parameters on a deal, whether it's signed before or after the draft. He also believes the 49ers will not make a move until their allotted 15 minutes begin Saturday at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

"That would not surprise me," Sullivan said. "It's common knowledge that the 49ers and I are confident we can get a deal done before or after the draft. I'm confident if the 49ers take [Rodgers] at any spot, we'll get a deal both sides will be happy with. The way I've described it, the 49ers have three baskets. Alex Smith is one basket, Aaron Rodgers is another basket, and trading the pick is the third basket. Whichever basket is most appealing to them, that's the one they'll take."

Smith said he did not believe the 49ers would balk at selecting him because of his agent's demands. "It's not about the money," he said. "It's about the direction of the organization. If they decide to go with me, it's not going to be about the money, and that will make me feel confident in going there. The last few days, people have been predicting I'm still the front-runner, but that could change in a minute. People are holding their cards close to the vest, and they don't say much. It's something that could change drastically between now and tomorrow."

Rodgers, who played his college football in the Bay Area and grew up in Chico, Calif., would appear to be a perfect fit for the 49ers. "It would be awesome to cement my legacy as a Bay Area guy," he said. "To be able to be part of turning that program around would be something special. I honestly don't worry about it. Everything that will happen is out of my control anyway. I hope I don't fall too way down if they don't take me. If I do, I guess that's just the way it's supposed to be."

The Miami Dolphins, with the second pick, reportedly also like Smith, although there has been plenty of pre-draft speculation they will take Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. The Dolphins made a move Friday, trading unhappy three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Surtain to Kansas City for the Chiefs' second-round pick, and a swap of No. 5 picks.

Maske contributed to this report from Washington.

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