Updated March 21, 2012 @ 7:26 p.m. ET
The 49ers have agreed to a new contract with QB Alex Smith, retaining the quarterback who led them to the NFC championship game in 2011 after it had appeared they might go their separate ways. NFL Network's Michael Lombardi first reported the news.
Smith's deal is for three years, $24 million, with $16.5 million guaranteed, The Associated Presss reported, citing a league source, who said Smith could earn as much as $33 million if he reaches various incentives.
The 49ers were one of three finalists to sign free-agent QB Peyton Manning, working him out in secrecy last week. Manning indicated Tuesday that he envisioned himself in San Francisco but wound up signing with the Broncos instead. That allowed the team to re-sign Smith.
Upon first learning the Niners were interested in Manning, Smith visited the Dolphins in an attempt to reach a deal with them. Miami wound up signing David Garrard, leaving no place but San Francisco for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft.
Smith started all 16 regular-season games and both playoff games for the 49ers in 2011. During the season he completed a career-high 61.3 percent of his passes, throwing 17 touchdowns to only five interceptions. In the playoffs he was even better, throwing for 495 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two games.
Alex Smith is back with the 49ers after the team failed to secure the services of Peyton Manning. For Smith this was the right decision as the continuity and growth of the offense and passing game continue, and fantasy owners will benefit.
Last season was the first time Smith had a team around him — albeit with a weak WR corps — and he responded by helping the 49ers make it to the NFC championship game. The irony is the weak receiving corps and special-teams play of WR Kyle Williams let them down. Regardless, Smith was not a fantasy-relevant quarterback, completing only 273-of-445 passes for 3,144 yards and 17 TDs with five interceptions. That's a per-game average of 196.5 yards, 1.1 TDs and 0.3 interceptions, making him a waiver-wire fantasy quarterback.
The team hopes to change that in 2012, bringing in WRs Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to bolster the vertical attack. The team also hopes Michael Crabtree continues to improve and shows the talent that made him a first-round draft pick. When you add TE Vernon Davis to the equation, Smith finally has the pieces in place to either prove his critics right or wrong in his ability to be a top-tier NFL quarterback. Fantasyland has the same questions, as well, as it looks for a quality No. 2 fantasy QB.
I believe Smith will improve enough to be a backup fantasy QB, but there's no reason to waste a draft pick when he'll be available on the waiver wire. He has upside with his new receivers, but like Tim Tebow, the odds seem stacked against him. Yet, that's why they play the game.