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Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Around the NFC West: Alex Smith's return

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers reasons for Alex Smith's expected re-signing with the 49ers. Maiocco: "The 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh, who took an immediate liking to Smith. Harbaugh is the first offensive-minded head coach the 49ers have employed since Smith came to the club as the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. Smith has been unable to test free agency because of the lockout. But he has continued to work out with teammates in the Bay Area, and now has a playbook to give him a much-needed head start he would not be able to get with another team. The 49ers offer Smith his best chance to start in 2011. The 49ers have been unable to add another veteran."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are unlikely to making significant moves at quarterback after drafting Colin Kaepernick and reaching what appears to be an understanding with Smith. Barrows: "I certainly don't see them signing a high-profile free agent or trading for one. I think it's safe to assume that they see Kaepernick as the future and wouldn't spend big bucks on a young guy like Kevin Kolb. ... They likely will bring in an undrafted guy -- Santa Rosa's Adam Froman, perhaps? -- to compete in camp. And maybe they bring in a lower-profile passer like Bruce Gradkowski if they're not optimistic about David Carr."

Also from Barrows: He expects Kaepernick and Smith to get together once Kaepernick completes a move to the Bay Area. Barrows: "Moving to the South Bay also will put Kaepernick in close proximity with Smith and the group of a dozen or so 49ers who have been regularly working out down here. So far, those workouts have been limited to the weight room. However, there are plans to move it onto the practice field, which could be effective in the event of a lockout especially considering that Smith and his mates now have copies of Harbaugh's playbook. If the NFL gets its way and the lockout continues this week, you can bet that Kaepernick will be trying to glean as much information as he can on his own."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith's apparent willingness to remain with the 49ers runs counter to how elite competitive athletes would do. Kawakami: "I’ve covered a lot of sports and a lot of big-time athletes and winners, and I’m saying none of the elite players (in this same situation) would have stuck around here one moment more than they had to, and many of them would have campaigned to get the hell out long ago. Smith had a chance to leave a few years ago, and chose to stay. Smith had a chance to leave this offseason, and presumably is choosing to stay. I’m not saying this proves he can’t play QB. I’m definitely not saying Smith is tough -- he has gotten up time and again after tough hits and injuries and bad moments. I’m just saying that being willing to go through the 49ers QB oddity yet again is another indication that whatever it is Smith has failed to summon in the past … I think he’s failing to summon now." Smith must realize he won't find a better situation elsewhere. With the 49ers, Smith gets a one-year opportunity to improve his standing in the league.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider thinks the 49ers should incorporate some spread-passing principles to accommodate their quarterbacks. Jim Harbaugh prefers a power running game.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team sought to get bigger -- much bigger -- by selecting James Carpenter and John Moffitt with its first two selections in the 2011 NFL draft. Line coach Tom Cable: "James was a guy I thought from Day 1 gave us the most in terms of his ability to play all four spots. … I think we upgraded ourselves in terms of toughness and getting some mass on the offensive line, which I think we needed to do."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along a tweet from Matt Hasselbeck saying the quarterback would like to receive a Seahawks playbook. The 49ers gave a playbook to unsigned quarterback Alex Smith after Smith signed a waiver allowing him to visit team headquarters during the brief window when the lockout was not in effect. The move signaled Smith's expected contract agreement with the 49ers. Seattle doesn't know whether Hasselbeck will re-sign.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the lockout makes it tougher to evaluate the Seahawks' draft strategy given the uncertainty at quarterback. Boling: "Matt Hasselbeck will be 36 in September and has had declining production the past several seasons. Hence team hesitance. But trading for an upcoming quarterback would be expensive in terms of players and picks they’d have to kick in. It seems that the most viable free agent to keep you going until you find your gem in the draft or a reasonable trade would be Hasselbeck. His value went up in Seattle over the weekend when the Seahawks saw no one in the draft they deemed worthy of betting the future of the franchise to obtain. The option is trusting that backup Charlie Whitehurst is ready to be your full-time starter. That option, again, seems to enhance Hasselbeck’s value."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle shares highlights from former scout Dave Razzano's recent appearance on the station. Razzano thought the Seahawks should have drafted Cal defensive lineman Cameron Jordan in the first round. He thought the 49ers erred in failing to select a quarterback at No. 7.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams, mindful of the lockout, have extended until June 1 the deadline for fans to renew season tickets. Team executive Kevin Demoff: "We heard from a number of fans who were worried about what would happen if they didn't pay by the deadline. We thought the most pragmatic thing was to push it back until June 1 -- give the situation another 30 days to see if it could provide some clarity." If there's no resolution by June 1, the team plans to take payment information from fans, then process payments when there is a resolution.

D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis liked the Rams' draft, starting with Robert Quinn's addition. Farr: "Thank goodness that a run on quarterbacks early allowed Quinn to fall to the Rams at No. 14. Drafting a pass rusher who hasn't scratched the surface of his potential could turn out to be the smartest move for the Rams in 2011. When you consider what the three other NFC West teams did in the draft, the ability to get to the quarterback may give the Rams the edge in the division. Of course, the rest of the Rams' draft was impressive, too, taking two highly-touted wide receivers in Boise State's Austin Pettis and Hawaii's Greg Salas for quarterback Sam Bradford to throw to. Now let's hope the team stays committed to re-signing Mark Clayton once free agency is allowed to begin."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' offensive draft picks will upgrade their production in the red zone more than a running back would have.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat shares Trent Dilfer's thoughts on Kaepernick, as expressed to KNBR radio. Dilfer: "When I was done with my study there were a few things I wrote down. One, he’s a project. It’s going to take a couple years to get him right. To get him completely comfortable playing in a traditional offense. Number two … (he has) maybe the highest ceiling of the draft. I think his ceiling for success may be higher than Cam Newton’s. He might be a better athlete than Cam Newton when you look at it. He’s got quicker feet. He’s got better pocket instincts and when he hits full stride, when he gets unleashed and he’s running full stride, it’s pretty amazing to see."

David Whitley of AOL FanHouse says Osama bin Laden's death reminds us that former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman would be 34 years old now if not for what bin Laden masterminded in 2001. Whitley: "He’d probably have a couple of kids, and he might still be playing safety for the Cardinals. Or the money-driven lockout might have irritated him into retirement. Tillman never was one to put up with a lot of bull, and he sure didn’t care about money. If he had, he wouldn’t have walked away from a $3.6 million offer to eat bugs in Ranger training. Tillman was the perfect Can-Do poster boy. Here was an undersized kid who got the last scholarship Arizona State gave out that year. By his senior season he was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. The Cardinals didn’t draft him until the seventh round in 1998. Tillman got a $21,000 signing bonus and rode his bike to training camp. Within two years he was All-Pro."