The San Francisco 49ers apparently plan to choose Utah quarterback Alex Smith with the first selection in the NFL draft Saturday if they can agree to a contract with him in the next few days.
The 49ers intensified negotiations with Smith's agent, Tom Condon, yesterday after informing the representatives of Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers that they favored Smith, a source involved in the discussions said. The 49ers would reevaluate their options around midweek if they're unable to agree to a contract with Smith, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations were at a sensitive stage.
San Francisco apparently plans to select Alex Smith if it can agree to a contract with him.
(Harry How -- Getty Images)
_____ NFL Draft Preview _____ • Tuesday: Braylon Edwards and Mike Williams headline an impressive crop of first-round receivers.
• The 49ers eye Utah's Alex Smith as talks with agents continue over the first-overall pick.
• Monday: Three tailbacks are poised to grab the spotlight Saturday.
• Sunday: Questions remain about the quality of this year's best QBs.
• Despite multiple injuries, Terps' Chris Kelley sets sights on draft.
_____ On Our Site _____ • Mark Maske's mock draft (Updated Tuesday)
_____ Top Five Wide Receivers _____ 1. Braylon Edwards
Upside: He's the total package
Downside: First-round wide receivers can be a risky proposition
2. Mike Williams
Year: Junior (sat out last season)
Upside: Dominated college football in his two seasons
Downside: Isn't a speedster, and is coming off a season out of the sport
3. Troy Williamson
School: South Carolina
Upside: Physically gifted; could end up as the best in this year's draft class
Downside: Has a ways to go; had a modest 91 catches in three college seasons
4. Mark Clayton
Upside: A dynamic player who will vie with Williamson to be the third wideout selected
Downside: Numbers slipped in senior season after great junior year
5. Roddy White
Upside: Big-play receiver who led the nation with 1,452 receiving yards last season
Downside: Not known as a precise route-runner
_____ Top Three Tight Ends _____ There are no tight ends in this year's draft class that teams covet like they did Miami's Kellen Winslow Jr. last year. But Virginia's Heath Miller clearly is the best player available at the position and seems like a first-round lock.
1. Heath Miller
Upside: Superb all-around player who averaged 48 catches per season in college
Downside: How many tight ends are worth first-round picks?
2. Alex Smith
Upside: Had 107 career catches, a school record for a tight end
Downside: Has been hampered by a knee injury this offseason
3. Kevin Everett
Upside: Very athletic
Downside: Is a project who is far from being a polished player
_____ 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. Denver Broncos
26. New York Jets
27. Atlanta Falcons
28. San Diego Chargers
29. Indianapolis Colts
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
31. Philadelphia Eagles
32. New England Patriots
It's not a certainty that the 49ers will be able to strike a deal with Smith, who decided to pass up his senior season and enter the draft after going 21-1 as the Utes' starter the past two seasons. Condon likely will be seeking a contract worth slightly more than the six-year, $45 million deal that he negotiated for last year's top overall draft pick, quarterback Eli Manning, with the New York Giants.
Manning's deal included $20 million in bonus money, plus an additional $9 million in incentives that could push its overall value to $54 million. Condon didn't negotiate that contract with Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi until just before training camp last summer because the club didn't obtain Manning until a draft-day trade with the San Diego Chargers.
A team with the top pick usually likes to agree to a contract prior to the draft with the player that it plans to select, as NFL rules permit. That eliminates the possibility of a contract dispute that might cause the player to report to training camp late and potentially ruin his rookie season. An on-time arrival at training camp would be particularly important to the 49ers, since they don't have a franchise quarterback on their roster and likely would want Smith to receive significant playing time next season. The 49ers went 2-14 last season and fired Dennis Erickson as their coach and Terry Donahue as their general manager, replacing them with Coach Mike Nolan and front-office chief Scot McCloughan.
The 49ers apparently are enamored of Smith's athleticism and intelligence. He had 32 touchdown passes and only four interceptions last season while leading Utah to an undefeated record.
Some NFL talent evaluators regard Rodgers as the more accurate passer and the more polished player, but there is some wariness about him league-wide because none of the former quarterbacking pupils of Cal Coach Jeff Tedford -- including Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller -- has emerged as an NFL star.
The 49ers apparently still could end up selecting Rodgers if they're unable to sign Smith. The club met with its top four draft prospects -- Smith, Rodgers, Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards and Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle -- last week, and has left open the possibility of trading the pick.