The 49ers put Smith on injured reserve Wednesday with a broken
bone in his right shoulder. The top pick in the 2005 draft probably
will require more surgery on the joint that limited him to seven
games last season.
Details of Smith's shoulder injury were first reported Saturday by ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
Coach Mike Nolan improbably claimed to know little about the
injury that ended his former franchise quarterback's fourth NFL
campaign before Smith even played in a regular-season game this
fall. Smith's teammates expressed more concern than their gruff
coach over his latest injury, which popped up during the club's
final practice before last week's season opener.
"I feel sorry for him," said running back Frank Gore, the
Niners' third-round pick in Smith's draft. "He was a great
teammate and worked hard. I just hope the best for him, and hope he
After paying Smith more than $31 million during his four years
with the 49ers, the bleak realities of NFL salary cap life mean the
club is likely to release him before next season. General manager
Scot McCloughan said last week that San Francisco can't risk paying
$9 million in base salary to a backup quarterback in 2009.
Smith lost his starting job to journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan in training camp.
"I'm not going to answer any hypothetical questions about the
future," said Nolan, who had an embarrassing public spat with
Smith last year over the severity of the quarterback's shoulder
injury. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. My focus right
now is on [Sunday's game against] Seattle."
Smith refused to comment after practice, and didn't respond to
an additional request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Smith had surgery on his shoulder in December to repair three
torn ligaments, the product of a separated shoulder from a game in
late September 2007. He attempted to play through pain after the
injury, but obviously struggled in all three games, culminating in
an awful effort in a 24-0 loss at Seattle.
"I thought he wasn't ready to go," said Seahawks linebacker
Julian Peterson, Smith's former teammate in San Francisco. "I
thought he just tried to tough it out for the team, and it really
wasn't a smart move for the team and for himself. He tried to do it
for the team, and wasn't really ready."
After several months of rehabilitation, Smith appeared to be at
full strength in training camp despite losing his job to
O'Sullivan, who was quicker to pick up new offensive coordinator
Mike Martz's system. But Smith experienced severe pain in his
shoulder last Friday while making a long throw during practice, and
subsequent tests found a significant problem.
Dr. James Andrews, who performed Smith's last surgery,
apparently confirmed the team's diagnosis of a broken bone in
Smith's shoulder, though the quarterback and the team still don't
know how it happened.
The 49ers signed 38-year-old Jamie Martin, a veteran of Martz's
system who was out of football, to back up O'Sullivan and Shaun
"He worked so hard to get back, and then to have this happen to
him now is so unfortunate," said Hill, who backed up Smith along
with Trent Dilfer for the past two seasons. "Obviously, it's not
an easy thing for him. Even last year, Trent and I were excited for
what he was going to do. ... I don't think he's a bust at all.
Injuries hampered him."
Smith passed for 4,679 yards with 31 interceptions and 19
touchdowns in his first three seasons with the 49ers, who selected
the former Utah star with the first draft pick of Nolan's regime.
He left the Utes one year early to capitalize on the excitement of
their undefeated season under coach Urban Meyer, and he was
rewarded with $24 million in guaranteed money as the No. 1 pick in
a notoriously weak draft with no clear-cut top selections.
Smith went 11-19 as a starter, never finding a consistent NFL
groove while playing for four offensive coordinators in four
seasons and throwing to one of the league's worst collections of
receivers. San Francisco's offense finished last in the NFL in 2005
and 2007, with Smith receiving a share of the blame even though he
played only part of his rookie season and missed most of 10 games
In 2006, his only full season as a starter, Smith took every
snap and posted respectable numbers for offensive coordinator Norv
Turner while the 49ers went 7-9. Turner then left to become San
Diego's head coach.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.