Niners show faith in QB Smith, RB Robinson with pair of contract moves

Updated: February 28, 2008, 6:15 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The 49ers showed belief in their present and future with a pair of moves Thursday.

Beleaguered quarterback Alex Smith got a vote of confidence from San Francisco, which exercised a multimillion-dollar buyback clause in the former No. 1 draft pick's contract that essentially extends his deal through 2010.

The 49ers also demonstrated that Michael Robinson, who had just 84 "touches" last season, remains a big part of the team's future. ESPN.com has leared that the club has signed the young tailback to a three-year contract extension.

Smith, who floundered through injuries and a prolonged public argument with coach Mike Nolan last season, will compete with former third-stringer Shaun Hill and likely another veteran quarterback in training camp. But general manager Scot McCloughan showed the 49ers' feelings about Smith by overriding the language in Smith's contract that could have allowed him to become a free agent after next season by voiding the final two years of his deal.

"It just shows that we believe in him to be our guy," McCloughan said. "He and Shaun are going to go out there and compete, and the winner of that is going to be a good quarterback for us."

Robinson's multimillion dollar extension, the complete financial details of which were not immediately available, keeps him with the 49ers through the 2012 season. Under terms of his original deal, signed as a rookie in 2008, Robinson was to have earned base salaries of $445,000 in 2008 and $530,000 for 2009.

Robinson, 21, has played mostly as a third-down back for the 49ers for the past two seasons, and has also been a special teams standout.

McCloughan declined to say how much the move on Smith's buyback clause cost the 49ers, though he said the overall deal was similar to the move made last season by the New York Giants, who bought back two voidable years in quarterback Eli Manning's contract for a reported $5 million bonus.

Smith has started 30 games in his three seasons with San Francisco, passing for 4,679 yards, 19 touchdowns and 31 interceptions while getting sacked 81 times.

His career passer rating is 63.5, but the former Utah star played while injured last season before undergoing surgery on his separated right shoulder in early December. Smith is scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., next week with hopes of being cleared to resume throwing.

McCloughan isn't certain who will compete with Smith and Hill for the starting job, but it's unlikely to be Trent Dilfer. The 14-year veteran hasn't officially retired, but McCloughan anticipates meeting soon with Nolan and Dilfer, whose season ended in December with the last of several concussions.

McCloughan said he hadn't spoken to 11-time Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen since the 49ers' fifth consecutive losing season ended. Allen, who isn't under contract as he contemplates retirement, isn't expected to decide his future until close to training camp.

"If he wants to stick to the price we think he's worth, we'd love to have him back," McCloughan said.

The versatile Robinson started 17 games at quarterback for Penn State, where he also played tailback and wide receiver. In 2005, when he started at quarterback for coach Joe Paterno, he was chosen as the Big 10's offensive player of the year, throwing for 28 touchdowns and running for 10 scores.

San Francisco selected Robinson in the fourth round of the 2006 draft and immediately moved him to tailback.

In 31 appearances, Robinson has logged 64 carries for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He has 20 receptions for 120 yards. His role as the third-down back figures to increase in 2008.

Robinson led the 49ers with 27 special teams tackles in 2007.

Finally, McCloughan warned fans not to expect the same excitement generated by the club during the NFL's free-agent signing period last season, when they inked cornerback Nate Clements and safety Michael Lewis to lucrative deals in the opening hours. McCloughan confirmed the 49ers are most interested in bolstering their defensive line.

"We don't feel like we have to go out and make a big splash right away," McCloughan said.

ESPN.com senior writer Len Pasquarelli contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was also used in this report.