As if Alex Smith needed any more evidence, yes, the game of football at this level is a business.Loyalty? There's no such thing.Feelings? Eventually, they'll be hurt.And that's where we are with the 49ers and Smith after the first week of the NFL free-agent signing period.Smith was underwhelmed by the 49ers' only contract proposal.--Three years. That does not show much of a commitment for a quarterback whose coach called him "elite." It also means the 49ers are holding the door ajar for youngster Colin Kaepernick to take over before his rookie contract expires after the 2014 season.--Eight million dollars annually. That hardly rates as an elite offer for a quarterback, either. After all, recently signed quarterbacks have been awarded better deals. Ryan Fitzpatrick has a contract from the Buffalo Bills that averages 9.83 million. And less than two weeks ago, the New York Jets struck a new deal with Mark Sanchez that pays him 13.5 million annually.CEO Jed York stated firmly on the eve of free agency that the ball was in Smith's court. He could sign the contract at any time. York repeated his words on Monday, saying the deal remains on the table."We'd like for him to be here, and we'll see where it goes," York said.RELATED: Jed York on Alex Smith -- "It's up to him"
When Smith showed no inclination to cave when the proposal was first offered, the 49ers went after Peyton Manning. Coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, in a clandestine operation, flew across the country to watch Manning throw.The 49ers waited hopefully as Manning mulled his opportunities. On Monday, Manning decided on the Denver Broncos.In the meantime, Smith was free to investigate his other options.Smith traveled over the weekend to visit with Miami Dolphins coaches and officials. The Seattle Seahawks were briefly interested but only as a backup plan. When the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn, that left the Dolphins as the only other team in the mix for Smith.
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Miami already has Matt Moore, who started 12 games last season. Moore completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,497 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions for the Dolphins, who finished 6-10.On Monday, the Dolphins also signed former Jacksonville starter David Garrard, who did not play last season. The Garrard addition might not rule out Smith as an option, but it certainly complicates the issue. Smith won't be able to use the Dolphins as leverage to get a better offer from the 49ers -- not that the 49ers were going to raise their initial offer, anyway.The Dolphins do not appear to offer Smith his best chance. After all, Smith would be in competition with Moore and Garrard. The Dolphins might look to select Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick, as well.Smith's best option is to return to the 49ers.ESPN's Adam Schefter speculated Tuesday morning the 49ers, along with Jacksonville and Green Bay, were a team "to monitor" as Denver will look to trade Tim Tebow -- the outstanding runner and 46-percent passer who was at the helm when the Broncos transformed their 1-4 season into a midseason push and a playoff victory.This is a business.Smith does not like the treatment he's gotten from the 49ers -- a cold, take-it-or-leave-it approach. But when he removes emotions from the equation, he'll have no trouble seeing the 49ers are his best option.The 49ers might be his only option.If Smith eventually signs the deal with the 49ers -- as most still expect him to do that -- he'll return to the team as the presumptive starter. But Kaepernick is inching closer.Smith is finding out that his play last season in helping the 49ers go 13-3 in the regular season and advance to the NFC championship game is a thing of the past.He made 6.5 million total while starting all 16 games and throwing just five interceptions in 18 games, including the playoffs. That breakout season, apparently, did not resonate with general manager Trent Baalke and chief negotiator Paraag Marathe.Smith has been offered a deal that is nowhere near elite in this era. And that stings.Harbaugh and Smith, apparently, began the process of mending fences on Monday with a conversation, CSNBayArea.com reported. The Sacramento Bee reported the meeting lasted an hour.RELATED: Ratto -- Will Smith still buy magic springing from Harbaugh's tongue?
Harbaugh and Smith have known each other for 14 months. Harbaugh delivered Smith's wife flowers at the hospital after the birth of the couple's first child in May. A month earlier, Harbaugh handed Smith a playbook, entrusting the then-unsigned Smith to install the offense to his offensive teammates during the lockout.After the 49ers' surprising success this season, Smith went on stage and gave an acceptance speech on behalf of Harbaugh for NFL Coach of the Year during a nationally televised event the night before the Super Bowl. Then, Smith caddied for Harbaugh during the first round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.So it has been personal.And that might be why the business side of it hurts so much.