It was another Jim Harbaugh press conference, until it turned into a press conference unlike any other from the San Francisco 49ers head coach.
Following Wednesday’s Organized Team Activity at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara, Harbaugh fielded nine minutes worth of questions about his current team before going out of his way to set the record straight on one of the biggest NFL storylines of the offseason.
Harbaugh reiterated that the 49ers never “flirted” with Peyton Manning, the longtime Indianapolis Colts quarterback who signed with the Denver Broncos this offseason. In his estimation, the team was “evaluating” a future Hall of Fame quarterback and doing its due diligence.
In talking with reporters, the 49ers coach made sure to explain that there was no circumstance that Alex Smith would not be in the mix in San Francisco. The conversation began after Harbaugh was asked an off-the-grid question about the throwing abilities of nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. Soon after, the 49ers coach gave reporters something to write about that they surely weren’t expecting.
“Oh, one other thing,” Harbaugh began, “there’s the perception out there, and it’s an erroneous perception, that we were flirting with Peyton Manning… It’s silly. And, it’s untrue. It’s phony.”
“Even the perception that we were pursuing him,” Harbaugh continued, “we were evaluating him.”
Harbaugh made it clear that Alex Smith had been in San Francisco’s plans the whole time. In fact, a new contract was offered to Smith prior to the Manning evaluation that saw Harbaugh fly out to Durham, N.C., to watch the 36-year-old quarterback throw passes at Duke University.
Smith said he knew about the trip from Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke being up front with him about the scenario.
“For me, it’s always been the same story,” the 49ers starting quarterback said. “It’s the same thing we talked about when I re-signed. He’d been up front from the beginning, constantly had been in talks with me, negotiating with me and that was never off the table.
“It was simply a fact that potentially you’re going to have to compete with somebody.”
Harbaugh always envisioned having Smith on his roster.
“We’ve said it all along, Alex Smith has been our quarterback,” Harbaugh, the NFL’s Coach of the Year said. “There’s no scenario other than Alex choosing to sign with another team that we wouldn’t consider him not as our quarterback.”
Months had passed following the Manning-to-Denver story was finished, but Harbaugh was clearly focused on addressing what was reported in the aftermath. So Harbaugh brought up the issue, making it clear the team didn’t want to sacrifice roster depth by signing a player that would command “a sixth of our salary cap.”
“You don’t like to talk about guys who are on another team, but in this case,” Harbaugh said, “it’s time to set the record straight. Alex Smith is our quarterback, was our quarterback and had every intention of always bringing him back.
“There was no circumstance that we would have let Alex Smith go.”
Smith reiterated his appreciation for the support from his coach, who was always up front with him about the team’s free agency scenarios. When it came down to potentially competing for the job in San Francisco, Smith didn’t balk at the opportunity.
Although he took a free agent visit to see the Miami Dolphins (what he called playing “the game a little bit,”), Smith’s heart remained in San Francisco.
Unfinished business and a comfort with the locker room and the coaching staff made it an easy choice.
“For me,” Smith said, “this was always the place.”
Tags: Alex Smith, Jim Harbaugh
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