The 49ers have extended quarterback Alex Smith’s contract for another two years, general manager Scot McCloughan announced Thursday.
McCloughan added that he still thinks the draft should be the primary tool for building the 49ers, not free agency, which begins tonight.
“You can bring in the players who not only have the skills you need, but the [right] kind of attitude,” he said.
Smith’s original contract was structured so the 49ers could buy it out after this year. Instead, they exercised a buyback clauseso he will be under contract at least through the 2010 season.
“That shows the confidence we have in Alex,” McCloughan said. “We think we have two good quarterbacks in Alex and Shaun Hill.”
Whether Smith or Hill is the starter, the 49ers still need help at wide receiver. McCloughan said that help is more likely to come in the draft.
“Teams tend to overpay for the skill positions in free agency,” he said. “We really think you have to get impact receivers in the draft. With college teams throwing the ball so much more, there are guys who are very productive, so we think we can get help there.”
Last year, the 49ers traded away their first-round pick in this year’s draft to get a second pick in the first round, which they used to draft offensive tackle Joe Staley. That move was later second-guessed when the Niners’ poor season made that lost pick more valuable, but it was a smart move. Staley had a solid rookie season and should have a long, successful career. He may even be moved from right to left tackle this fall, though Jonas Jennings will return.
“Jennings is under contract for another year,” McCloughan said. “The good news is that he can play either left or right tackle.”
The 49ers may need more help on the offensive line if Larry Allen and Justin Smiley leave as free agents. (Kwame Harris is already gone, but that’s a minimal loss, at best.) McCloughan said the 49ers’ position is the same for Allen and Smiley: If they’re willing to play for what the 49ers offer, they’ll stay. Smiley is likely gone under that scenario, but Allen, who can see the end of his career without binoculars, may stay.
The 49ers did get a first-round pick back in a trade with Indianapolis, but it’s at No. 29. Even so, they might be able to get offensive line help because McCloughan calls this a good draft and especially deep at that position.
Last year, the 49ers made a big splashin free agency, though their first grab, cornerback Nate Clements, was the only one who played a significant role during the season.
In this year’s free-agent market, the 49ers will have more of a “wait and see” attitude.
“If you jump in right away, you can overpay,” McCloughan said. “If you wait a couple of weeks, you’ll probably get better value. Free agency can be another tool to build your team, but your signings don’t have to be starters. They could be backups to get more depth.”
So, though there has been speculation that the Niners have targeted Cincinnati defensive end Justin Smith, it may be that 49ers fans will have to wait for the draft for any real excitement. McCloughan is truly committed to building through the draft.