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Revisiting Smith-Rodgers

11/18/2009

Sunday’s matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith -- er, San Francisco and Green Bay -- brings to mind the quirky coincidences of the 2005 draft. As you might recall, the 49ers chose Smith over Rodgers as the No. 1 overall pick. (If you forgot, we in the media will remind you all week.)

That choice came with the blessing of then-49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, who left after the season to become the Packers’ new head coach. He then assumed responsibility for developing Rodgers, who had fallen to the Packers at No. 24 overall.

Five seasons later, there’s no question Rodgers has developed into the better quarterback. Whether Smith would have benefited from Rodgers’ three-year apprenticeship is one of many intriguing angles to this story. Here’s another: It has taken Rodgers five years to catch up to Smith in the financial department.

This fact is of particular interest to the NFC North blog, where we’ve had multiple discussions about Detroit giving quarterback Matthew Stafford a staggering $41.7 million in guarantees. But let’s break down the Smith-Rodgers financial comparison as an earlier example of the NFL’s absurdly top-heavy rookie pay scale.

As Andrew Brandt pointed out over on the National Football Post, Smith received a six-year deal with $24 million guaranteed in 2005. Rodgers got $4.13 million guaranteed in his rookie contract.

Rodgers’ 2008 extension included $20 million in guarantees, bringing the total guaranteed money in his career to $24.13 million.

I think that dichotomy is especially significant considering how close Rodgers and Smith were in 2005 draft rankings. As late as the morning of the draft, some analysts thought the 49ers would select Rodgers -- a Cal product who grew up rooting for them. The decision cost Rodgers more than $15 million. From a financial perspective, it took more than half a decade to catch up.