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The hard work behind the scenes was going on without us knowing about it. The San Francisco 49ers under Head Coach Mike Nolan and Vice President of Personnel Scot McCloughan hammered out a three-year exclusive contract with our leading tackler in linebacker Derek Smith.
Of all the areas on our defense that playmakers were present it was with our linebacker corps. Now that has been put in jeopardy with the start of free agency and having so many available for other teams to ponder over.
Derek Smith conceivably was the best free agent linebacker out there in terms of experience and veteran leadership. The San Francisco 49ers realizing this signed Smith, 31, after several meetings between 49er executives and his agent, and did so excitedly because of the exact experience and leadership he brings to this franchise.
There were many rumors to the fact that Derek Smith was very interested in testing the free agent waters in lure of big money and playing on a team that had a legitimate shot at getting to the next Super Bowl.
Well that was all spelled out as being dead wrong when you have the linebacker making a statement to the press that his intentions to stay put in San Francisco were genuine right from the start as he believes in the agenda that head coach Mike Nolan has set forth for this team.
In fact he is such an honest believer in Mike Nolan that he went even further with his praises of making him his favorite all time coach to have worked and served under. Mike Nolan had as much enthusiasm about Smith as he had for him. He jump-started the talks between the parties and wanted a deal done as soon as possible.
"San Francisco is the place I really wanted to be because I believe in what Coach Nolan is doing," said Smith. "I really think he's a great head coach as well as a great person. I like the staff he has and I think we're headed in the right direction and I want to be a part of that. The 49ers were really good about working with my agent and we were able to get it done. I didn't want to go into free agency, but if it meant security in the future for my family, I had to try it. But everyone worked it out, and I am really happy to be here."
Earlier in the season back towards the end of December of last year the San Francisco 49ers managed to work out deals quietly behind the scenes with fellow linebackers Jeff Ulbrich and Corey Smith.
Jeff Ulbrich, a very dependable tackler and a ferocious competitor out on the field whose season was interrupted with a torn biceps muscle, received a four-year contract worth $8.955 million, including a $2 million signing bonus to boot.
Corey Smith who has been a special teams dynamite for us all season long last year received a three-year deal worth $1.825 million, including $275,000 in guaranteed money.
All of this means that some progress has been made to retain some of the linebackers on this team intact, but on the block still are Andre Carter, Brandon Moore, Julian Peterson and Saleem Rasheed.
All four represent a great deal of ability, talent and big-time playmaker potential for a team in need or searching for a quality linebacker. Julian Peterson remains a high-profile candidate for a team in search of a quality outside linebacker.
Although he made mention of wanting to remain in San Francisco, the likelihood is slim to none when considering the hefty payday he'll be seeking with fellow notorious agent Kevin Poston.
His agent is the reason he turned down a mega-bucks deal just a few years ago from San Francisco that included $15.5 million dollars in guaranteed money. Peterson since then has been tagged twice with the team's franchise tag and been paid $14.35 million over the past two seasons.
As mentioned in a previous article of mine he lost his standing with injuries he suffered in 2004 after just five games with a ruptured Achilles tendon and then was sidelined again in 2005 after trying to comeback too quickly resulting in injuring his hamstring.
Derek Smith was under the watchful eye of the Green Bay Packers who expressed interest in signing the would-be free agent. Smith expressed a desire though to Mike Nolan that he had a wish to keep his family grounded in California and that he was honored to be playing under him as well.
Derek Smith led the team in tackles last season with 163, thus being the ninth consecutive season that he has exceeded 100 tackles. In fact Derek Smith has led the San Francisco 49ers in tackles every season since joining the team as a free agent in 2001.
Smith was drafted by the Washington Redskins back in 1997, and came to San Francisco as an unrestricted free agent in 2001. His 163 tackles just last year led the 49ers, for the fifth straight year. He has been tremendously durable too, in that he has missed only four games in five seasons with the 49ers.
His reason for signing on as a veteran with just three years was because that is as far as he envisions himself playing for. He is in top physical shape right now and doesn't want to subject his health after that to the prolonged beating he takes in from on the field year in and year out.
"I see really good things from Coach Nolan and his staff and the guys he is trying to model this team after; quality guys who are coming to work," Smith said. "He handles situations very well. He doesn't let things blow up and he doesn't let guys get bigger than the team. He has a pretty good handle on the team. He means what he says and he doesn't give you lip service. He has great character and integrity. He is the best head coach I have ever had in terms of being straight up and honest with guys. It goes a long way for me."
In most cases linebackers usually wear down once they enter there 30's, especially those that play on the inside like Derek Smith does. In 2003 he established a team record by recording 189 stops alone in just that season.
San Francisco in fact was reportedly going to overpay for the services of Derek Smith if need be should a contract with him become sticky at all. On the contrary he was a willing participant in trying to negotiate a deal and pictures the 49ers eventually contending for a Super Bowl berth within three years he is contracted with the team.
"I'm hoping to get a ring," said Smith of what he wants before leaving the game. "That's what I am looking for and that's what my goal is, to get to the Super Bowl. I'm sure Coach Nolan's goal is to win the West. If you don't win the West, your chances of going to the playoffs are seriously diminished. That was our goal last year, but we came up quite short.
A couple of years ago, the Chargers went from 4-12 to 12-4. We have to keep our guys healthy and Alex (Smith) will have another year under his belt. We have a lot of young guys on the team who have game experience, which is the best thing by far. That does nothing but make our team stronger."
So many teams including are own lose a player here and there they regret watching go. I certainly was worried that Derek Smith was that player. He has expressed what it is to be a 49er and surrenders himself to us as fans.
All of us should be honored and blessed to have him remaining in a 49er uniform. He is in so many ways the improvised version of Ken Norton Jr. He is always watching for where the ball is supposed to be and sniffs it out like ravaged bloodhound to the end.
Derek Smith is a joy to watch out on the field. He has a charisma about him that challenges quarterbacks and running backs to back off and beware. His ability to direct and re-direct players on the defense are also very compelling. He's a player that personifies what Mike Nolan is trying to accomplish and that is to put your very own ego away on a shelf and always be thinking about the team as a whole.
Around Derek Smith we can build a defense to be reckoned with despite some free agent losses in possibly Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. I would like for us to try and sign at least one of these or on the flip-side take a hard long look at signing Brandon Moore who played admirably in 10 games last season and was second on the team in tackles with 86.
Moore, 26, an unrestricted free agent is a fourth-year player, who came to the 49ers as an un-drafted free agent from Oklahoma in 2002. He started in 10 games last season due to the injury to linebacker Jeff Ulbrich in the fifth game of the 2005 NFL season.
He had started only in four games in his first three years with the team and has been relegated to the practice squad time and time again. His playing time increased last season of course as mentioned due to Jeff Ulbrich but it was also motivated by the trading of linebacker Jamie Winborn as well to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now it is the time to take all of the playing time into consideration and give this guy a shot. I thought he was pretty impressive and Mike Nolan has given the young linebacker high marks for his hard work, but will it be enough to keep him a bit longer?
Smith anchors the second line of defense as a premier inside linebacker. Anyone we draft will be grateful to play along side this guy and learn from one of the best. I hope we can keep as many of our own as possible.
I am even more convinced with the words of Derek Smith about Mike Nolan that this franchise is on the way back up the ladder of contention more than ever. He does have an agenda and he plans on fulfilling a promise to himself and the fans that love this team so dearly.
"We are very happy to have him back," said Vice President of Player Personnel Scot McCloughan. "We identified guys this year that we wanted to build around, and hands down, he was one of the top guys. He is a guy who we believe will continue to make us better in the future and so it is important to keep him."
Derek Smith's belief that we are close to going into the playoffs and even competing for a Super Bowl within three-years is a sign of hope that this team could be something special. He has opted to stay a 49er and provide for his family at the same time by providing them a stable environment in which to grow up in.
In my eyes he is a winner all around and we are the beneficiaries of his decision. The San Francisco 49ers and the community are better off for it. He is a humble man with deep convictions and a vision for this team that should be applauded. I am so proud to welcome home our very own Derek Smith.