Hill deal gets 49ers rolling on 2008 roster

The 49ers made their first significant roster move of 2008 when Shaun Hill agreed to a three-year deal with the team that will give him an opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback position and also get paid like it. Hill was one of 14 San Francisco players headed for some form of free agency this year, with decisions soon to come on the others before the start of free agency on Feb. 29.

Hill was one of the most consequential of those 14 because of his expected place in the team's 2008 structure - and that is, to provide a legitimate challenge to incumbent Alex Smith for the starting QB role, something Smith hasn't had since taking over as the regular starter during his rookie season of 2005.

Hill - who missed the season finale with an assortment of injuries - ended the season as San Francisco's regular starter after injuries to Smith and backup Trent Dilfer, and he was by far the most impressive of the four quarterbacks who played for the 49ers in 2007.

Seeing significant action for the first time in his six NFL seasons, Hill led the 49ers to back-to-back victories over Cincinnati and Tampa Bay in his first two starts. In 10 quarters of 2007 action, Hill completed 54 of 79 passes for 501 yards with five touchdowns and one interception, compiling a passer rating of 101.3.

Entering in place of an injured Dilfer at halftime of San Francisco's Dec. 9 loss to Minnesota, Hill set a NFL record for highest completion percentage in a game for a player making his first pass attempt while completing 22 of 27 passes (.815). Hill broke the record previously established by former 49ers assistant coach Sam Wyche, who completed 20 of 25 passes (.800) in his first NFL action in 1968 with Cincinnati.

Hill, who has expressed his desire to remain with the 49ers since emerging as a winning quarterback in December, has the kind of quick release and pinpoint accuracy that will make him a viable option for new coordinator Mike Martz's offense if Smith is slow to pick up the system.

Hill's new contract with the team includes performance-based clauses that will significantly sweeten his deal should he win the starting job.

Hill is returning to the 49ers because of the opportunity to compete for the starting role, but he said none of that really matters once players get out on the field.

"As far as competition goes, every year everybody's competing for jobs for first-string, second-string … whatever the case may be," Hill said. "So that will be nothing new. I'm always competing for a job. The nature of the business is, you just never know. And I'm not scared of the unknown."

Hill had surgery last month to repair the broken index finger on his right hand. The flexibility already is coming back in the joint and he should be ready well before the team's first spring minicamp in May. The back and rib injuries that kept Hill out of San Francisco's Dec. 30 season finale at Cleveland have healed naturally.

With Hill's services secured, the 49ers have 11 veterans who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the end of this month: defensive end Marques Douglas, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, guards Larry Allen and Justin Smiley, cornerback Donald Strickland, offensive tackle Kwame Harris, running back/kick returner Maurice Hicks, wide receiver Bryan Gilmore, kick returner/wide receiver Michael Lewis, defensive end/linebacker Roderick Green and quarterback Chris Weinke.

Tight end Billy Bajema and cornerback B.J. Tucker are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

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