Could the hard-line stance of Utah quarterback Alex Smith's agent affect whether the 49ers will choose Smith with the first pick of Saturday's draft?
"It potentially could have an impact, yes,'' said Tom Condon, Smith's agent whose blockbuster contract for top pick Eli Manning last year is definitely a factor in what the 49ers will do, from Kansas City today.
The 49ers are in a tough spot. They've been talking to Condon for a week. Smith is clearly the leader in their clubhouse for the No. 1 pick. "Otherwise,'' Condon said, "we wouldn't be going through what we've been going through for the past six or seven days -- talking two to three times every day.'' So if the Niners come off Smith, they're going to look exactly like they have the last three or four years: Cheap. It's clear now that the agent for Aaron Rodgers, the other quarterback in this scenario, would take less money in the fifth and sixth years of a deal. And it's also likely Michigan WR Braylon Edwards would play ball on a lower deal than Condon would demand.
It's certain the 49ers won't have a deal with Smith by noon Eastern time on Saturday. But I think that won't affect their decision. In fact, I'm almost sure of it. Coach Mike Nolan, who will make the call, told me at the Combine that the 49ers' decision on the top pick won't be influenced by money. I know Nolan, and he's not going to let Condon force his hand.
Why does this matter? Because last year, Condon engineered a deal for Manning that was basically the same on the front end as several recent quarterback contracts: four years, $25 million. But in the last two years of the six-year deal, Manning's money balloons to $21.5 million. The 49ers want to adjust that downward -- significantly, I'm told. And Condon's point is that he's not going backward -- not with the NFL signing these ridiculously lucrative network TV deals that begin in 2006.
"The number in the first four years has basically been the same since 1998,'' Condon said. "Four years, $24, $25 million. So I assume they'd be very happy to keep that number there. The fifth and sixth years of a contract at that level are what would normally correspond to with a guy's free-agency contract. So that's why I don't think it's very unreasonable for the numbers to jump up then.''
Condon said he didn't want to get into the specifics of the talks with San Francisco, but it sounded clear they were at loggerheads over the money in the fifth and six years.
"It's not an argument with much rationale, as far as I'm concerned,'' he said.
The reason I don't think the last two years should have an impact on the deal is simple. If the 49ers take Smith and he's really good, the team will have to re-do the deal after about four years anyway, because it won't be a market contract by then -- particularly in a day and age when the cap's bound to go up significantly thanks to the TV contract. If he's another Tim Couch, they're going to want to cut him after four years.
Easy for me to say. It's not my money. But the 49ers won't have changed much if they eliminate the best player for their team from consideration because he's got some demands they don't like. Especially in the very same week NBC and ESPN TV money have fallen like manna from heaven into their coffers.
The 10 rumors/draft tidbits with some legs
1. At No. 2, Nick Saban is driving an impossibly hard bargain in trade talks to move down. He's adhering to the draft-value sheet most teams use to determine the fairness of trades in a year when most NFL people you should throw the sheet away because the level of talent is not as good.
2. Minnesota will not, contrary to many reports, package both of its first-round picks (seven and 18) to move up to get the wide receiver Edwards.