Dilfer right guy at right time for kid QB

For the first time since Steve Young decided he'd had enough knocks to his noggin and the dynasty finally died, the 49ers' roster will be graced by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Trent Dilfer isn't exactly a name you'd often associate with that elite status, but he's the kind of veteran mentor the Niners have been searching for since the day they drafted Alex Smith, and now he's on board to teach San Francisco's kid QB a thing or two – or three.

Dilfer has been something of a whipping boy for the critics since he arrived on the NFL scene with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the No. 6 overall pick in the 1994 NFL draft. As he reaches the twilight of his career, it's pretty much the common opinion that Dilfer never lived up to that high status. But that conclusion is only half-fair when you consider what the San Francisco Bay Area native has accomplished in his 12-year career in the league.

And as far as what Dilfer brings to the 49ers – who traded fourth-year backup Ken Dorsey and an undisclosed draft pick (likely a seventh-rounder) to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday evening to acquire him – the career numbers that say Dilfer never quite became a star are irrelevant.

It's the knowledge Dilfer brings and the things that he can do for Smith that are the ticket here.

At age 34, Dilfer has seen and done it all in the NFL with four different teams. A competitor and, yes, a winner throughout much of his career, Dilfer has both the head and heart to ply his wisdom on Smith and guide San Francisco's second-year wunderkind toward the answers to those well-kept secrets regarding what it takes to make it at the most difficult individual position in professional sports.

And, yes, Dilfer also has won a Super Bowl. He doesn't get much of the credit – or any of the credit – for Baltimore's 34-7 thumping of the New York Giants in SB XXXV, but what much have the Ravens done since then without him? Dilfer's performance in the last game of his only season in Baltimore might be the most under-appreciated by a winning QB in the history of the game.

But Dilfer has that experience, and he can pass it along to Smith, who figures to become a sponge now that he actually has a veteran QB who has done something in the NFL around to give him advice.

Dilfer also brings the experience of 71 consecutive starts in Tampa Bay, where he presided over the Buccaneers' rise from NFL doormat to perennial contender, and four seasons in Seattle, where he was signed to be The Man after his one season in Baltimore. But he eventually gave way as the starter to Matt Hasselbeck after two injury-marred seasons with the Seahawks – where he was known as a stand-up guy and fan favorite.

Not content to be a caddie on a rising NFC power, Dilfer got the change of scenery – and chance to be a starter again – that he wished for when he was traded to the Cleveland Browns last year. He arrived on the banks of Lake Erie on a wave of positive notices as a team leader and a positive force in the locker room. Both were sorely needed by a Cleveland team that had a fractious quarterback controversy in 2003 and suffered the locker room gamesmanship of former 49ers Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia in 2004.

But things did not work out well in Cleveland. While Dilfer provided leadership for a rebuilding team, a contentious relationship developed between him and the team's new coaching regime, particularly offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon. Dilfer had some success in 11 starts for the Browns, winning four games while completing 199 of 333 passes for 2,321 yards with 11 TDs and 12 interceptions, and earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after leading a September victory over Green Bay.

He has 107 career starts, a Pro Bowl berth in 1997 and 106 TD passes to go along with his 19,352 career passing yards. What's not to like for a veteran backup?

Well, there's that pedestrian 71.3 career quarterback rating, but the Niners hope to call upon Dilfer for significant snaps only in an emergency. Dilfer's job during his coming-home season – he was born in nearby Santa Cruz and played in college at Fresno State – is to tutor and mentor Smith, and he knows what and where his place is.

"Trent was a player we had interest in last season," said 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who last year offered a 2005 sixth-round pick for Dilfer to the Seahawks, who took a fourth-rounder from the Browns instead. "We were looking for a veteran quarterback with experience that could help mentor Alex Smith. Trent fits the bill on both counts and we are excited to have him with the 49ers."

They should be. Let's face it, Dorsey and Jesse Palmer just aren't wise old quarterbacks that Smith could lean on in times of trouble and doubt. And – though Dorsey certainly has some presence about him and knows how to manage a game – the 49ers are better off with Dilfer as the next in line to go behind center should Smith get knocked out of a game. When that happened last year, it was a farce watching Dorsey and Cody Pickett trying to guide a pathetically anemic San Francisco offense.

And don't think for a second that Dilfer is washed up. He still has something left physically, and has been documented ad nauseam above, has plenty left mentally. Niners VP of player personnel Scot McCloughan – who worked around Dilfer several years in Seattle – knows this well, and that's why McCloughan has been in Dilfer's corner and trying to make him a 49er since he arrived in San Francisco last year.

Some will laugh about the 49ers trading for Dilfer. We openly applaud the move. He's the right man for this moment, and the right kind of veteran quarterback for the 49ers to have behind the callow young signal-caller who can use all the help he can get as he leads the team into the future.


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