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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Vet on the hot seat: Alex Smith


Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The assignment sounded simple enough: Identify and elaborate upon a veteran NFC West player "on the hot seat" this season.

 Smith

The hard part was settling on just one.

I chose 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, with Rams quarterback Marc Bulger earning honorable mention, even though other candidates also seemed worthy.

The stakes are always highest for quarterbacks.

Smith is probably feeling less heat after accepting a reduced contract and the reduced expectations that came with it, but his career is unmistakably at a crossroads. That's a big deal for the first player chosen in the 2005 NFL draft.

Smith is one of 21 players remaining on the 49ers' roster from the most recent regular-season game he played, a 24-0 defeat to Seattle on Nov. 12, 2007. While the 49ers promised Smith a chance to battle Shaun Hill for the starting job in return for Smith accepting a significant pay reduction, they won't wait forever.

Rookies, Vets on the Hot Seat
ROOKIES ON THE HOT SEAT
• AFC: N | S | E | W
• NFC: N | S | E | W

VETS ON THE HOT SEAT
• AFC: N | S | E | W
• NFC: N | S | E | W

The agenda for Smith, still only 25, should include the following priorities:

Smith will have gone 671 days between regular-season starts if he beats out Hill for the No. 1 job heading into the 2009 opener. The future is now for Smith.

Bulger, trying to bounce back after three poor seasons, was arguably more qualified than Smith for the NFC West veteran's hot seat. Two main reasons:

The Rams' irrelevance after posting a 5-27 record over the past two seasons made Bulger less appealing than Smith as my hot-seat choice.

Additional hot-seat candidates from the NFC West, arranged by team:

Arizona

San Francisco

Seattle

Rams