NEW YORK, April 23 -- As he was having dinner with his family and friends Friday night, Utah quarterback Alex Smith got a call on his cell phone. It was San Francisco 49ers Coach Mike Nolan telling him that he had long ago decided about the team's first overall pick in the NFL draft. Nolan called him again shortly after noon Saturday and -- five minutes later -- Smith was the 49ers' No. 1 pick.
The trades that many expected would upend the first round of the draft did not materialize. Instead, the surprises were the players whose phones did not ring until later in the afternoon than expected.
The San Francisco 49ers select Utah quarterback Alex Smith with the first overall pick in the NFL draft, the fifth straight year a quarterback has been chosen No. 1.
(Julie Jacobson - AP)
Mike Williams, the Southern California wide receiver who sat out last season, was passed over by nine teams -- including the Washington Redskins -- and dropped to the Detroit Lions at No. 10. And Aaron Rodgers, the California quarterback many had tabbed as a possible No. 1 overall pick, tumbled to No. 24. The Green Bay Packers, seeking an heir apparent for Brett Favre, drafted him.
The 49ers entertained a number of offers for their choice, but ultimately made Smith the fifth straight quarterback to be taken first overall.
"I'm excited. People talk about the legacy and the pressure associated with it," Smith said of 49ers Hall of Famers Steve Young and Joe Montana, "but I think it's the other way around. I'm honored to follow in their footsteps. It's only going to provide motivation and hopefully I can carry on the legacy. I feel like I fall right in with those guys -- smart quarterbacks who made good decisions and got it done."
Only a day before, the 49ers were said to be choosing between Smith and Rodgers. Smith's agent, Tom Condon, was in negotiations all week with the 49ers and looking for the same sort of six-year, $54 million contract (including a $20 million signing bonus) that Eli Manning had received a year ago from the New York Giants. No deal was struck, but Smith and Condon said they did not expect that to be a problem.
"I wouldn't characterize us as being close," Condon said. "We've been talking, and they felt comfortable enough to make him their pick. We'll get it done. We always do."
Said Smith: "I don't think [a contract] is something that's going to be an issue. I feel like we're going to get it done, and this is the right place for me."
Once the 49ers picked Smith, Rodgers went into a free fall. Twenty-three teams passed on the California native who wore Joe Montana's number under his regular jersey as a youngster, filling other needs before the Packers rescued him from the torment of the waiting area in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
Rodgers had said Friday he knew such a scenario was possible and that he could live with it, but it was an agonizing day for him, even though he got a huge ovation when his name finally was called.
"I still think I'm the best quarterback in the draft," Rodgers said. "Not a lot of teams needed quarterbacks. After 14, 15, 16 we knew it was not going to happen. But good things come to those who wait. The Lord has been teaching me a lot about humility and patience lately."
Rodgers said he thought he was ahead of Smith in the 49ers' estimation two weeks ago, then was dead even with him a week ago.
He also thought Tampa Bay might take him with the No. 5 overall pick after speaking with Bucs Coach Jon Gruden, and also held out hope the Redskins might make him the ninth overall pick. Both Cleveland, picking third, and Tampa Bay were on the phone with the 49ers, but could not strike a deal.
"This wasn't the easiest thing to go through," he said. "It might give me a little bit of extra incentive. That did cross my mind. We joked about putting some money in a pool yesterday to see who the last guy to leave the room would be. But it's not so funny when you're the last guy."