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San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback Alex Smith (11) reacts after scoring against New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional playoff game in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. (Josie Lepe/Staff)

Alex Smith is just way too good at dealing with this crazy stuff and deflecting the drama. It's understandable. He has had plenty of practice.

As Smith noted Wednesday after signing his new contract, he has "been through way worse than this" during his time with the 49ers.

Agreed. For references, please see Jim Hostler and Jimmy Raye, two of the substandard offensive coordinators Smith suffered through before Jim Harbaugh arrived as head coach. Smith also has endured injury, booing, theories about his hand size, scorn, backstabbing gossip and red zone dysfunction.

Still, there was a difference between those travails and Smith's just-completed free-agent episode: It had far more soap opera elements. A few missing details were filled in Wednesday.

For instance, Smith pretty much confirmed he never had any true intentions of going elsewhere. He said he might even have stayed if Peyton Manning had signed with the 49ers. According to Smith, Harbaugh had implied that he wanted both Smith and Manning on the roster. Smith said he would have "relished" the chance to compete against Manning.

Of course, he did not say how strong the relish would be -- or why, if he was so eager for such a competition, he took that trip to Miami last weekend for a conversation with the Dolphins.

"I had never been to Miami Beach," Smith joked, "and thought it was a good way to go see it."

As I said, the guy has really developed the arts of dealing and deflecting.


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Smith was vague about when he was informed of the 49ers' interest in Manning but said Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke made a house call to discuss the situation.

"I don't know what day it was," Smith said. "Obviously early last week sometime. I forget what day it was. It all kind of seems like a blur. ... It was right there when they first started to look into the process of looking at (Manning). They came over and sat down with me and told me about it."

Smith is a bright and organized man. One would think that, given the conversation's potential impact on Smith's future, he would recall the exact day of that meeting. And if it took place after, not before, Harbaugh's stealth trip to North Carolina for the Manning workout ... well, that would mean the coach wasn't as upfront as he could have been with Smith. But to Smith, it doesn't matter.

"The conversation with Jim," Smith said, "was about competition and the best man winning. The same way with me last year when I got brought in. Nothing was ever laid out there, nothing was given to you. You were going to have to earn everything. And I agree with it. Jim firmly believes in ... that's the nature of this game."

Makes you wonder if Harbaugh told Manning the same thing -- that he'd have to compete for the starting job. Did that impact Manning's Denver decision? And here's another curious piece of information: Even though Smith and Manning share the same agent, Tom Condon, the two quarterbacks never spoke to each other through the free-agent process. They still haven't talked.

From this point forward, however, all of that is trivia and folderol. It is time to ponder more significant questions, namely:

1. Will Smith be a better quarterback next season than last? Answer: No reason he can't be. When the season begins, Smith should have a better fleet of receivers, assuming that Randy Moss' attitude is right and his legs haven't turned to overcooked spaghetti during his year away from the game. Meanwhile, Mario Manningham will make at least five plays that turn underthrown or overthrown Smith passes into catches.

2. Will Smith be affected by Harbaugh's desire to seek a better quarterback alternative this offseason? Answer: Can't see why. Smith's mental toughness might have been an issue his first few seasons in the league, but his grittiness should never be questioned after that playoff performance against a New Orleans Saints team that, we now know, was just as concerned with maiming quarterbacks as stopping them.

3. After Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman gave Smith relatively conservative passing game plans a year ago, will he be allowed to open it up more in 2012? Answer: Yes, and he will need to do so. In the NFL, the same tricks never work twice. Plus, the 49ers' schedule is much tougher. Smith will use the offseason to become a more sophisticated quarterback and work on his weaknesses -- principally, not always being able to quickly identify the best receiving option on a particular play and not delivering more consistently accurate short passes.

Of course, that's the dull and humdrum football stuff. It isn't as compelling as rumors about which private jet is flying to which secret practice field, or whether someone's wife is influencing a decision, or if one quarterback is miffed about his team bringing in a famous backup.

That's still going on in other NFL regions. Around here, we'll just have to wait until next year. Too bad. Those bogus trips to the beach were fun while they lasted.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5092.