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Smith signs lucrative deal with Niners

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (July 26, 2005) -- Alex Smith has a contract befitting the NFL's next great young quarterback. And because he signed it before training camp, the San Francisco 49ers have plenty of time to figure out whether he's ready for the role.

The 49ers reached a six-year deal with Smith's agent, Tom Condon, four days before the first workouts of training camp July 29, ensuring Smith will have every chance to claim the Niners' starting job.

Silicon Valley's newest 21-year-old multimillionaire endured a semi-sleepless night at his new home in Los Gatos, optimistically pondering the burden on his shoulders.

"Now it's time for me to go earn this money and prove that I deserve this money," Smith said. "The primary goal is to get on the field. I don't think this team is paying me this money to sit on the sideline. ... I feel I can play at this level right now. It's just a matter of time."

After signing his deal, Smith shook hands with coach Mike Nolan and owner John York at the 49ers' training complex, where the real work will begin this weekend. The club will attempt to improve on its 2-14 record that landed the once-proud franchise at the bottom of the NFL.

"We're glad and happy that we've come to an agreement prior to training camp," said York, who would have faced another round of criticism if the Niners' top pick wasn't in camp on time.

With this draft class' ceiling set by Smith's contract, many of the top NFL picks are expected to sign deals in the next few days while camps open. Earlier in the day, defensive tackle Luis Castillo signed with San Diego, and cornerback Fabian Washington agreed to terms with the Oakland Raiders.

But Smith will be among the NFL's highest-profile rookies, even if he can't immediately wrest the starting job from veteran Tim Rattay, who struggled with injuries last season, or even third-year pro Ken Dorsey.

"At some point, Alex is going to be the quarterback here," Nolan said. "When that happens will be up to him and the other guys at that position. But I know Alex has been preparing himself to be ready when that chance comes around. Hopefully, it's soon."

Smith skipped his senior year with the Utes to enter the draft after one of the most spectacular college seasons in recent history. Playing mostly from the shotgun in coach Urban Meyer's inventive offense, Smith passed for 2,952 yards and 32 touchdowns while leading Utah to a 12-0 record, the Mountain West Conference title and a blowout victory against Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

He rocketed up the draft charts of most NFL teams with his strong arm, exceptional athleticism and smarts -- he earned an economics degree from Utah in only two years. The 49ers, seeking a franchise quarterback to join the lineage of John Brodie, Joe Montana and Steve Young, snapped him up with the top pick.

The 49ers will play a version of the West Coast offense under new coordinator Mike McCarthy, putting Smith back under center consistently for the first time since his freshman year at Utah. Smith insists the transition won't be a problem after his offseason of minicamps, team workouts and plenty of individual study.

In fact, San Francisco's biggest challenges this season probably won't be at quarterback. McCarthy and Nolan must figure out how to generate offense from one of the NFL's least effective units last season, and Nolan also must install his new 3-4 defensive scheme.

But for now, everything is rosy for Smith and his new team. He hopes the money won't change his low-key outlook on life.

"I don't even know if I'd call this a childhood dream, because I don't know if I dared to dream like this," Smith said.

AP NEWS
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