NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers' quarterback situation has blended right into the murkiest offseason in recent NFL history.
There's been enough confusion and misdirection to keep everyone guessing.
Consider the progression:
A short time later and in a less formal setting, Smith scoffed at the idea. "Are you being serious?" he said. "Uh, no."
General manager Trent Baalke subsequently said the 49ers' future quarterback wasn't on the roster.
New coach Jim Harbaugh, meanwhile, has consistently praised Smith, creating the impression he might be able to salvage Smith's once-promising career.
So, what's the deal?
Where do the 49ers stand with Smith and the quarterback situation overall? Baalke, participating in his first full offseason as the 49ers' general manager, cleared up some of the confusion when I caught up with him at the NFL owners meetings Sunday.
"First of all, the comment I made was probably taken a little out of context," Baalke said. "The question was asked of me, what my feelings were as to the quarterback position and Alex Smith in particular. You have to remember, at that time, Alex Smith was only under contract for 2010. He is not under contract for 2011."
Yes, but there still seemed to be a gap, in tone and tack, between what Baalke and Harbaugh have said about Smith.
"I don't think we differ," Baalke said. "We want to make this team as competitive as we can. In order to do that, we have to create competition at every position, and certainly to do that we're going to have to create it at the quarterback position when you don't have an incumbent quarterback. That is all we are hoping to do."
The 49ers, like every other team, are in a holding pattern while the NFL lockout continues. They cannot address the quarterback situation or any other position until the league re-opens for business.
In the meantime, there's no sense in removing options from the table.
But if Smith does return, he'll return as part of the mix, not as The Franchise.