How long are Niners willing to commit to QB?

After producing the best season of his career, Alex Smith no doubt wants a long-term contract from the 49ers. But the 49ers need to determine just how long they are willing to commit to Smith in terms of contract years. Both sides obviously still want each other after San Francisco's great turnaround season, but it's likely some kind of middle ground will have to be reached for a deal to get done.

There has been some casual discussion between the 49ers and the representatives for Smith about a potential contract extension for the quarterback, but talks haven't really progressed yet to the substantive stage.

For all the talk about how the Niners might be one of the teams interested in Peyton Manning if (when?) he is released by Indianapolis, the preference seems to be re-signing Smith to a long-term contract. He signed only a one-year deal for 2011, then produced by far the best season of his seven-year career. Smith can become a free agent on March 13.

One of the big questions besides the obvious one – money – is the term of the contract. There are rumblings San Francisco officials prefer a three-year contract, while Smith's camp would like something longer, more like five years. The length of the contract definitely will be a major negotiating point.

Another question that may be impacting Smith's negotiations: How does coach Jim Harbaugh perceive quarterback Colin Kaepernick's role in the team's future?

Kaepernick threw only five passes this season as a rookie, but Harbaugh may have made a statement in the 2011 draft when he traded three picks to the Denver Broncos to move up from the 45th spot to the 36th so he could select the prolific college quarterback.

As the triggerman in Nevada-Reno's hybrid, pistol offense, the 6-4, 230-pound Kaepernick's career totals included completing 740 of 1,271 passes for 10,098 yards with 82 touchdowns and only 24 interceptions.

Kaepernick displayed his rawness during the preseason, but he developed nicely in practice as the season progressed and the 49ers wouldn't have hesitated to go with him as their quarterback to see if he was ready to handle the role had something happened to Smith.

Despite a dramatic turnaround with a 13-3 record, the 49ers offense still ranked only 29th in the league with 183.5 passing yards per game and, more important, 30th in the league scoring touchdowns in the red zone (40.7 per cent).

Smith was ninth in the league with an efficient 90.1 passer rating, but was 19th with 3,144 yards as he completed 273 of 445 passes for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions.

Concerns over the 49ers ability to keep the ball moving on offense were highlighted in the 20-17 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game in which the 49ers converted only 1 of 13 third down attempts.

Smith connected with tight end Vernon Davis on long passing plays to produce both of San Francisco's touchdowns in that game, but he also missed open receivers down the field and either didn't spot or didn't get the ball off to other open targets during the game.

New stadium gets NFL funding, but controversy continues

Calling it "a big step forward," Niners owner Jed York announced in Indianapolis during Super Bowl week that NFL owners have put aside $200 million in funding for the future 49ers stadium in Santa Clara.

York tweeted the comment after NFL owners voted to approve the stadium's funding at an Indianapolis meeting.

"With the NFL's muscle now behind the new stadium, we are moving forward," said York said. "I expect an official ground-breaking ceremony very soon. Get your hard hats ready; we are embarking on the path to the next generation of 49ers football."

The allocation, created from a fund through the collective bargaining agreement, is the second largest for a stadium behind the $300 million the league contributed for the Giants/Jets stadium. Dallas and Indianapolis received $150 million for their stadium projects.

The estimated $1.02 billion stadium project has been a source of controversy for Santa Clara residents, as some are pleased about the economic activity it will bring to the area. Others have expressed concern about how the stadium will be funded.

"Today's vote is an important milestone for the 49ers and their fans," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "It is a solid endorsement that adds to the strong support of the South Bay community. This step will allow the 49ers to move forward toward making the dream of a new stadium a reality."

The city council voted 5-2 last week against a referendum to put the project back on the ballot. It passed with 58 percent of the vote in city elections in June 2010, but an opposition group claims city officials were deceptive about the finances regarding the project.

City Attorney Ren Nosky filed a preemptive complaint in Santa Clara County Super Court against the Santa Clara Plays Fair opposition group, arguing that the measure cannot be challenged a second time, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

"Despite losing at the polls, (opponents) are now improperly trying to kill the project in a piecemeal fashion by calling for a referendum vote on the approval of specific contracts needed to carry Measure J into effect," the suit says, per the paper.

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