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NFL DRAFT Niners on clock for first selection



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



They are considering two quarterbacks or a trade down.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK -- Joe Montana stinks.

He's worn and faded too, after spending two football seasons under the shoulder pads of California quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a lifelong San Francisco 49er fan who wore his lucky Montana T-shirt for every game.

"It got pretty torn up by the end of my career," Rodgers said. "Now it's retired."

Rodgers, meanwhile, is on the verge of joining the NFL, and he'll find out today if his affection for the 49ers is unrequited love.

They have the No. 1 pick, and they're being very secretive about whether they plan to select Rodgers, Utah quarterback Alex Smith, or maybe even trade out of the top spot.

The latest buzz has them choosing Smith, even though he could be more difficult to sign.

Ups and downs

Rodgers, who said he was very pleased with his interviews and workout for the 49ers, has done his best to tune out all the speculation. He even laughs at some of it.

"It seems like the draft boards change every day," he said Friday at a pre-draft luncheon. "All we do is wake up, get on a plane, and our stock's falling. Then we wake up, have a bad-hair day, and our stock's rising."

Often, when there's an obvious No. 1 pick, he has agreed to contract terms before the draft. Not this year. And that has Rodgers thinking the 49ers might be searching for a third option.

"If the 49ers want to do good business, it would behoove them to sign their pick before the draft," he said. "Because they're not doing that, to me that's saying they're trying to shop it pretty hard. They want out of the spot. I don't know why else you wouldn't want to get the pick signed before the draft. That's what I'm telling myself."

Finance degree

Smith, who knows something about business, having earned a degree in finance in only two years, said he believed the 49ers would have signed him this week, had they been able to agree on contract terms.

He attended the luncheon too, along with four other top prospects: Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards, Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle, Auburn running back Ronnie Brown, and Texas running back Cedric Benson. Like Rodgers, Smith said he was pretty much in the dark about San Francisco's plans.

Twice in the last five weeks, 49er coaches and scouts have traveled to Salt Lake City to put Smith through field tests.

They have done the typical things, asking him to make an assortment of throws, but they also have made peculiar requests, such as asking him to rotate the ball around his head, and his ankles, as fast as he could.

Feeling the first workout was too choreographed, and somewhat deceptive because it was done indoors, the 49ers staged the second one outside on a windy day.

They brought their own center -- Smith operated mostly out of the shotgun in college -- and two of their receivers.

Apparently, Smith passed their tests, because team officials began so far unsuccessful negotiations with his agent, Tom Condon.

Not crystal clear

Exactly what that means is unclear. It's not unusual for the team that has the first selection to negotiate with more than one potential top pick and Smith is trying not to read too much into the 49er maneuverings.

"Of all the teams I visited, they were the hardest to read," he said. "I think they're really doing their homework."

The holdup with Smith reportedly is that he wants to make more money in the last two years of his contract than Eli Manning will get from the New York Giants.

Manning, last year's top pick, and who also is represented by Condon, signed a six-year, $45-million deal in which he could potentially make $21.5 million in the last two years.

Miami picks after San Francisco, followed by Cleveland, Chicago and Tampa Bay.

Of those, all but the Bears are in the market for a quarterback. But all have other needs too.

The Dolphins want a running back, and the Browns, Bears and Buccaneers want receivers.

So there is a possibility one of the top two quarterbacks could slip out of the top five, or maybe even the top 10.

"I sure hope not," Rodgers said. "But you never know. It's a crazy draft."

Walking into his Manhattan hotel this week, Rodgers was approached by an autograph hound who mistook him for Smith.

"I said, 'This is going to be a bad trip,' " Rodgers said, smiling and shaking his head. "I'm not very well recognized."

Does his favorite boyhood team know him from Adam -- or better yet, from Alex -- or should Rodgers bury that smelly old Montana T-shirt and start fresh?

"They're going to take the guy they want," he said. "I obviously hope it's me."




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