Smith done for season - likely done as a 49er

The 49ers have placed quarterback Alex Smith on injured reserve, which not only ends his 2008 season before it even began, but also could signal the end of Smith's tumultuous career with the team. Smith may never play another snap for the 49ers, but 14th-year veteran Jamie Martin might. Martin was signed Wednesday to replace Smith on the roster, and he'll be the team's No. 3 QB Sunday vs. Seattle.

Smith? His days with the 49ers appear decidedly numbered. He was seen briefly during the team's open locker room period early Wednesday afternoon, ice attached to his injured right shoulder with bandages, walking towards meeting rooms for the team's regular 12:30 quarterbacks meeting.

But that's a place Smith no longer needs to be, and it will be interesting to see if he'll continue to hang close to the team – some players go on injured reserve and are never seen around the team the rest of the season – because his salary figures practically prohibit Smith being part of the 49ers in 2009 if he is not their starting quarterback.

Coach Mike Nolan made it clear that's a subject he didn't want to talk about Wednesday.

Nolan displayed little emotion or sentiment when he announced Smith's status at the start of his morning media briefing for Seattle week.

"Alex Smith will be placed on IR, he has a shoulder injury," Nolan said. "I have no specifics about the injury whatsoever. He'll be on IR, it's a shoulder injury, and that's about as far as I'll go specifically."

Nolan said he didn't even know the diagnosis for Smith or whether he is headed for another surgery on the right shoulder that required season-ending surgery after Smith separated the shoulder in Week 4 of last season.

"Nope," Nolan said. "All I need to know is if he'll be back on this football team so that I can make an adjustment to our roster. So I don't have any specifics for you other than that."

When asked about future plans for Smith, and whether the team might consider letting him go now so that he could begin shaping a career elsewhere, Nolan replied, "I'll just tell you real clearly, I'm not going to answer any hypothetical questions about what it's going to be in the future. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. My focus right now is on Seattle. If you want to talk about Seattle we'll do it, or otherwise we're pretty much done."

Smith appears pretty much done in San Francisco. He is owed a non-guaranteed base salary of $9.625 million in 2009, and if he were on the San Francisco roster next season, he would count $12.292 million against the team's 2009 salary cap.

General manager Scot McCloughan went on record last week saying Smith would have to clearly exhibit that he's going to be San Francisco's starting quarterback in 2009 to return next year at those numbers. And now, obviously, Smith won't have an opportunity to exhibit that in 2008.

"You can't. You just can't," McCloughan said when asked if the 49ers could have Smith return as a backup in 2009 at his current cap figures. "At any position, the amount of money we're going to invest in him, it'd have to be proven that he is the guy, (when) we get into the offseason, he's our guy for next year."

The offseason still is a long way away, and the 49ers wouldn't have to make a final roster decision on Smith until the end of February. The team is on the hook for Smith's $2.3 million base salary this season. His cap number for 2008 is $9.916 million. But if he no longer is in the team's plans, the 49ers can release him as soon as this season is over. He would count $5.3 million against the team's 2009 cap if he is released.

Then there's the question of whether Smith would want to come back to the 49ers, where he has been through four offensive coordinators in four years and had a public spat last year with the head coach regarding Smith's toughness.

Smith declined comment Wednesday. It still has not been decided whether he will undergo surgery to repair a fractured bone in his right shoulder, Smith's latest injury that came to the forefront when he felt significant pain while making a deep throw at the end of last Friday's practice session.

Smith had made it through training camp and the preseason without much incident regarding the throwing shoulder that underwent surgery last December to repair three torn ligaments.

Smith is scheduled to make $24.6 million with the 49ers over the next two seasons, and considering Smith's agent Tom Condon reportedly feels the team has mishandled his client over the past two years, it is unlikely either side would be much interested in renegotiating his contract for Smith to remain in San Francisco.

Smith hasn't really shown on the field that he deserves to be the No. 1 quarterback here anyway – a role that was handed to him during his first three seasons with the team after San Francisco selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Smith was beaten out for the starting job this summer by journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan, who joined the 49ers as a free agent earlier this year.

Smith has an 11-19 record as San Francisco's starting quarterback, and in three seasons with the 49ers has completed 54.4 percent of his passes for 4,679 yards with 19 touchdown and 31 interceptions for a career quarterback rating of 63.5.

Shaun Hill, who shared the first-team snaps with Smith during the first week of training camp in July while O'Sullivan watched from the sidelines, said it's not accurate to label Smith a bust in his time with the 49ers.

"I don't think he's a bust at all," said Hill, who has replaced Smith as O'Sullivan's backup. "I don't agree with any of that. Last year with the injuries – and injuries do happen – that's what hampered him. Trent (Dilfer) and I were so excited last year about what he was going to do that season. He looked so good in the preseason, so good throughout practice, so good in the offseason, even. We were just so excited about what he was going to do. I'm just very sad that this is happening to him again with the injury. Hopefully, they can get it corrected, and he can move on."

Said running back Frank Gore, who joined the 49ers at the same time as Smith, "I'm sorry to hear about his shoulder and the other stuff that's out there about he might not come back. I feel sorry for him. He was a great teammate."

"Was" being the operative word there. The 49ers, it seems, already are thinking and talking about Alex Smith in the past tense.

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