Alex Smith/Peyton Manning; Jeremy Lin/Tim Tebow; Joe Lacob/Monta Ellis/Andrew Bogut; Chili Davis
ALEX SMITH was treated shabbily by the 49ers in the last week and a half, but that was fine with many fans who still don’t like Alex as a quarterback. One wrote me that he is a second-rate quarterback and always will be. Last Saturday, this guy wrote me, “You’re the reporter, Glenn. Do your own digging. Why haven’t you heard that Peyton Manning is coming to the 49ers?” Gosh, I don’t know. Could it be because he wassn’t?
In retrospect, I’m not sure Manning was ever really interested in the 49ers. He said he wanted to visit team facilities, talk to members of the organization, see what their goals and philosophies were. He did that with Miami, a team he quickly removed from his list, then with Denver and Tennessee (Nashville), but never with the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh had to travel across the county to the Duke campus to work out Manning, with John Elway also there.
I think it’s significant, too, that Miami, Denver and Tennessee were all AFC teams. He wanted to stay in the AFC where he wouldn’t be in direct competition with his younger brother, Eli, unless both their teams were in the Super Bowl. With the 49ers, he’d be in direct competition during the season as well as, possibly, in the playoffs.
In the end, I think Denver was the team he wanted from the start. He couldn’t refuse to work out for the Titans, in the state where he had played his college football. But Denver was always a better fit for him.
Manning conducted himself with professionalism throughout this process, never making any promises or resorting to Twitter, which is irresistible for so many athletes.
I can’t say the same for the 49ers, who tried to keep their interest in Manning secret (and succeeded for about three days), nor for Alex Smith’s agent, who was also representing Manning. Since the agent, Tom Condon, works for an agency with many agents, he could have passed Smith on to another agent and told Alex he had work to do for Manning.
Alex went on the radio 11 days ago and said he was satisfied with the contract terms and was waiting for his agent to work out the details. He couldn’t know that the details his agent was working on involved Manning’s future team. Yet, I’ve seen e-mails and tweets from fans who have accused Smith of being greedy. I’d like to know how they figured that. Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a six-year, $59 million contract, with $24 million guaranteed; he was the NFL’s 22nd-ranked quarterback last season. Matt Flynn, who has made two career starts in the NFL, signed for three years, $26 million, with $10 million guaranteed, with Seattle. Alex played on a one-year contract for $4.9 million last year. And, don’t forget, he had earlier re-negotiated his rookie contract downward to stay with the 49ers. Once again, I would remind readers who are incensed by these high contracts that the players aren’t holding guns to the heads of the owners.
Because he was loyal to the 49ers, Smith made no attempt to negotiate with other teams as a free agent, until he was forced to look around when the Manning story exploded. He didn’t have many options. He was prepared to visit Seattle, but then the Seahawks signed Flynn. He interviewed with Miami, but I suspect he told them that wasn’t going to work because they signed David Garrard, who didn’t even play last season and hasn’t resembled a quality quarterback when he has.
The 49ers are obviously the best fit for Alex. He knows the team, he’s close to the coach, even after Harbaugh’s flip-flop, and as a San Diego native, he’s comfortable with a California team.
Harbaugh will need to apologize profusely, and general manager Trent Baalke must continue his efforts to keep the team at a high level. Baalke has kept the defense together, which was a high priority, by re-signing all 11 starters. He has signed free agent receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, to beef up a weak receiving corps and perhaps make the diva, Michael Crabtree, realize he has to step up his game to stay in the starting lineup. With Delanie Walker healthy again, Smith will have two tight ends capable of making big plays.
With Smith in the fold, the biggest need now is at right guard, with Adam Snyder leaving for the Arizona Cardinals. It’s almost impossible to get a premier offensive lineman drafting low in the first round, as the 49ers are, so they’re going to have to continue to scour the free agent list.
Otherwise, everything is looking up for the Niners. They announced last week that all their season tickets have been sold for 2012; the “Faithful” are a lot more faithful when the team is winning. The Santa Clara stadium is slightly ahead of schedule and may even be ready for the 2014 season, and if the Raiders get smart, they’ll have co-tenants. Of course, we’ll continue to hear lamenting from San Franciscans that the team is deserting San Francisco, but it’s the other way around – and that’s not just a recent development.
HOT STORIES: One thing that drives me crazy about the sports media: The practice of overplaying a story for weeks and then abandoning it.
We’ve seen that twice in the last calendar year. The first example was the Tim Tebow mania, when he had some dramatic fourth quarter comebacks, usually after three quarters of terrible play. I saw one of them, against the Raiders in Oakland, when Tebow missed open receivers time after time until the fourth quarter when he hit some big passes and the Broncos won. It was, of course, the only time the Raiders collapsed in the fourth quarter. Oh, yeah.
In fact, Tebow Time was coming to its logical conclusion by the end of the season as teams with good defenses stopped him cold. The Patriots don’t really have a good defense but Bill Belichick is a very good schemer, and he put together a plan which stopped Tebow and the Broncos twice, first in the regular season, then in the playoffs.
Tebow is not an accurate passer, which is a fatal flaw for a quarterback. He’s a strong runner and often did that successfully until teams like the Patriots planned a way to stop his running. If he had stayed at quarterback for the Broncos, they would not have been close to the playoffs.
John Elway, who has only to look in the mirror to know what a real quarterback looks like, said all the right things about Tebow, but as soon as Peyton Manning came on the market, he made an all-out effort to get him. Now, the Broncos are looking to trade Tebow. His value is not high because he will almost certainly be switched to running back or even tight end with another team. He’s a good athlete and an inspiration player but as a quarterback, he’s Bobby Douglass. You don’t remember Douglass? That’s the point. He had a 10-year NFL career, starting in 1969, and was a strong runner, setting rushing records for a quarterback that were later broken by Randall Cunningham. As a passer, it was said that he could throw a football through a brick wall. Unfortunately, he often couldn’t hit that wall.
Scott Ostler wrote in Tuesday’s Chronicle that the 49ers should go after Tebow. I guess Scott wants to be the Knucklehead of the Week in his Sunday column. To show you how modern sports media works, Adam Schefter of ESPN Twittered that there were four teams interested in Tebow, one of them the Niners. Four hours later, he sent out another tweet saying the 49ers were no longer interested. Substitute never for no longer and you have the real story.
The latest hot story has been Jeremy Lin, who spawned the silliest word – Linsanity – I’ve seen in a long time. Lin made the Sports Illustrated cover two times and was a sensation in New York. Temporarily.
Two things have slowed Lin’s progress: 1) Scouting reports showed he always goes to his right on the dribble; and 2) Carmelo Anthony. With Anthony sidelined by injury, the Knicks had great ball movement, but Carmelo believes the ball should ALWAYS go to him because he’s the best shooter. So, the Knicks’ offense has stalled, and so has Lin.
I know far less about the NBA than I do about the NFL and major league baseball – by choice – but people who know the league better think that Lin will probably soon be a backup. No more magazine covers and, thankfully, no more stories about how the Warriors missed on him.
THE WARRIORS publicity-hungry owner, Joe Lacob, got booed heartily at the Chris Mullin halftime ceremony Monday night, and I have not one whit of sympathy for him. Lacob has never wasted an opportunity to jump into the spotlight. He had hardly bought the team before he declared it would make the playoffs, which was never going to happen, and that Klay Thompson would be Rookie of the Year, though there was no spot in the starting lineup for him at the time.
Lacob refers to himself as “the face of the franchise.” Almost invariably, when an owner is the face of a franchise, that franchise is in serious trouble; see Al Davis with the Raiders or Daniel Snyder with the Washington Redskins. The players should be the face of the franchise, and for the booing fans, Monta Ellis was that for them, the most exciting player on an otherwise lack luster team.
That doesn’t mean the Warriors should have kept Ellis. He was their one trading chip, and they needed to change the structure of their team to a more traditional one, with Stephen Curry as the point guard and the 6-7 Klay Thompson as the shooting guard who can also defend big guards. Ellis was a good defender when he first came to the Warriors but he’d lost interest in that aspect of the game since, and he was overpowered by bigger guards. Fans (and media) tend to overrate local players. Ellis was not highly regarded in the league, as shown by his All-Star snubs, so the Warriors were lucky to make this trade.
If Andrew Bogut can stay healthy, he’ll be the center the team has lacked, a good scorer with moves around the basket, a good rebounder and shot-blocker. His health is the obvious question, with two major injuries in the last two seasons. Athletes who get serious injuries early seldom have long productive careers (see: Rich Harden). So, keep your fingers crossed. Curry may also be in that category. The Warriors should shut him down for the rest of the season and give him a chance to heal. What’s the point in playing him now?
I like the fact that the Warriors were very aggressive in their moves around the trade deadline, winding up with an extra first round draft pick. If they play poorly enough to have one of the top seven picks in the lottery, which is certainly a possibility, they can keep their own first round pick. So, maybe the long-suffering Warriors fans will finally be rewarded next season. Maybe. I’m not holding my breath.
SPRING TRAINING is the silly season for baseball media. Everything is positive in the spring in Arizona and Florida and it’s easy to be overly optimistic, as I know from experience. The columns I wrote from spring training were never my best.
I was thinking of that this week when I saw a long story about Chili Davis and what he supposedly will bring to the Oakland A’s this season. I enjoyed Chili as a player but he will have the same problem every hitting coach has: He can’t change the players.
Because pitchers start the action, a pitching coach can have a great impact by changing a windup or delivery, and I’m very glad to see Curt Young back as the A’s pitching coach. Young is one in a string of outstanding A’s pitching coaches, starting with Dave Duncan.
Hitting coaches seldom have that kind of influence. Charlie Lau got an undeserved reputation for making George Brett a great hitter, but give me a break. You or I could have made George Brett into a great hitter.
Every spring, there are stories about a hitting coach changing the stance or swing of a hitter. That works until the first game the hitter goes 0-for-4, at which time he reverts to his old approach. Occasionally, a hitting coach can convince a hitter to lay off a bad pitch, but the local examples of Pedro Feliz and Bobby Crosby, who kept trying to pull outside pitches, which resulted in many 6-4-3 double plays, are much more common.
TV: I’ll be on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast on Thursday night. Air time is 8:30 p.m.
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