That could help explain why negotiations seem to lack urgency.
The NFL's labor agreement prevents players from entering into football preparations with coaches until April 16. The quarterback market has shaken out elsewhere around the league. Neither side has better alternatives at present.
News that free-agent quarterback Josh Johnson might pay a free-agent visit to the 49ers looks like an attempt by the team to pressure Smith (separately, team CEO Jed York told reporters Tim Tebow was not an option).
Teams routinely show interest in one player to pressure another. Players routinely show interest in one team to pressure another.
Earlier Tuesday, the Detroit Lions put Seattle Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne on a plane to visit their headquarters. Hawthorne was reportedly still in the air when linebacker Stephen Tulloch, perhaps sensing additional urgency with a free-agent prospect on the way, re-signed with Detroit.
Kurt Warner's experience with the Arizona Cardinals following the 2008 season resembles what is happening to Smith this offseason. Warner had led the Cardinals to a Super Bowl appearance. He had earned a new contract, but the Cardinals realized Warner had more value to them than he had to other teams. Warner was about to turn 38, was known to prefer staying in Arizona and appeared unlikely to start fresh elsewhere.
Smith is younger than Warner, but also less accomplished and less critical to his team's overall success. The 49ers know his value to them is greater than it would be to other teams. They could probably afford to reduce their offer without worrying about another team exceeding it. That wouldn't necessarily be the best tactic, of course, but neither is there any reason for San Francisco to bid against itself.
Would the 49ers sign Johnson to replace Smith on the roster?
Johnson, 25, has five touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 57.7 NFL passer rating in 26 appearances (five starts) over four NFL seasons. He played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. There would be no assurances Johnson would fit well with the 49ers or even beat out 2011 second-round draft choice Colin Kaepernick for the starting job.
The biggest danger for Smith is waiting around long enough for the 49ers to shift their thinking toward the longer-term future. That happened to Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle last offseason. Coach Pete Carroll wanted to bring back Hasselbeck after the quarterback led a surprise playoff run, but Hasselbeck asked for more money than the Seahawks were comfortable offering. As the lockout dragged on, the organization decided to make a clean break.
The Seahawks were in rebuilding mode at the time. The situation in San Francisco is different. The 49ers have a stronger foundation to contend this season with Smith returning. Both sides have to realize a Smith re-signing stands as the best scenario.
Update: Looks like all this Smith talk could be irrelevant quickly.