Niners need to lock up Smith long-term 

Quarterback Alex Smith has proven he can lead the 49ers deep in the playoffs and deserves to stick around for years to come. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images file photo
  • Quarterback Alex Smith has proven he can lead the 49ers deep in the playoffs and deserves to stick around for years to come.

The first thing the 49ers should do in the offseason is re-sign Alex Smith to a multiyear contract.

I’m sure Alex will be willing. He’s had two chances to leave the Niners, but has returned each time. The first time was after the 2008 season, when then general manager Scot McCloughan said he’d either have to accept a restructured contract, at a lower salary, or leave as a free agent. He stayed.

The second time was last February, when he was a free agent, but Jim Harbaugh asked him to come back. After the lockout ended, Alex signed a one-year contract.

He’ll be much more in demand after this season, especially after he led the 49ers on two long touchdown drives in the final four minutes of Saturday’s rousing win over the New Orleans Saints, but he obviously feels a loyalty to the team which drafted him No. 1 in 2005.

He’s 27 now, as Drew Brees was when he came to the Saints and started a six-year run with Sean Payton as coach. As good as Brees is, he’s been playing in a great system and has multiple good receivers, a luxury Alex has never had.

Last Saturday, he was really down to one — Vernon Davis — because Michael Crabtree had developed the dropsies, dropping three catchable passes, and wasn’t a reliable target. No matter. Smith and Davis got the job done between them.

Quarterbacks often have their best year in their late 20s or early 30s, as 49ers history shows. Steve Young was 31 when he first became a full-time starter. Joe Montana’s best stretch, from mid-1988 through 1990, started when he was 32.

In 1961, Y.A. Tittle was almost 35 when he was traded to the New York Giants and won three straight division titles. All three quarterbacks are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Another example: Jim Plunkett was a Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback for a Rose Bowl winner at Stanford when he was drafted No. 1 by the New England Patriots in 1970. Plunkett took a terrible beating because the Patriots had a bad offensive line.

He was eventually traded to the 49ers, then discarded by Joe Thomas — just one of the terrible mistakes Thomas made. He was picked up by the Raiders and sat on the bench for two years, healing.

When he got his chance to start, he was already 32 (33 in December that year), but still led the Raiders to two Super Bowl titles.

Smith hasn’t had it quite so bad as Plunkett, but it hasn’t been a bed of roses for him, either. He’s had seven offensive coordinators in seven seasons, only two of them — Norv Turner and the current Greg Roman — good ones, and he was thrown under the bus by Mike Nolan, who insisted he wasn’t hurt though Smith’s shoulder was so damaged, he had to have two operations.

But he’s a survivor. He’s obviously physically tough and he’s mentally tough, ignoring all the media criticism and booing by fans, many of whom now love him. Now, he’s poised to have some great years. If the 49ers are smart, he’ll be in a San Francisco uniform.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on Email him at

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Glenn Dickey

Glenn Dickey

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