For the weeks leading up to the 2005 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers had to decide who was going to be the new face of the franchise.
Was it going to be local kid Aaron Rodgers, or was it going to be Utah’s Alex Smith?
It was something that would be debated until the final days before the draft.
Rodgers, who played two seasons at the University of California after transferring from Butte College, had impressive college stats in less than two seasons as the Bears’ starting quarterback.
He threw for almost 5,500 yards and 43 touchdowns against only 13 interceptions.
Smith had equally impressive numbers, throwing for just over 5,200 yards, 47 touchdowns, and only eight interceptions in two years as the Utes starter.
He was named the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Year as a junior and earned All-American honors, while helping Utah become the first non-BCS to win a BCS bowl game with a 35-0 win over Pittsburgh.
Just a few days before the draft, first-year head coach Mike Nolan (who also had final say on a personnel matters) finally decided that Smith was his man, signing the quarterback to a six-year, $49.5 million contract, which included $24 million guaranteed money.
However, the draft wasn’t as sweet for Rodgers, as he sat in the green room for hours, finally being drafted by the 24th overall by the Green Bay Packers.
Instead of getting the big-money contract that Smith signed, Rodgers signed for only $7.7 million and only $5.4 million.
While Smith started seven games in his rookie season, Rodgers saw minimal action, playing in only two games, while backing up Brett Favre.
Rodgers continued to hold the clipboard and subsequently broke his foot while filling in for Favre against New England in Week 11. However, Smith took control of the 49ers’ starting job, becoming one of only four quarterbacks to play every snap of the season.
He was showing signs of living up to the No. 1 pick status under first-year offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He threw for just under 2,900 yards, and while he threw just as many touchdowns as interceptions (16), it was evident that Smith was taking a giant step forward under Turner’s tutelage.
However, Turner headed south to takeover as San Diego Chargers head coach, leaving Smith to learn yet another offensive system, three in as many years.
Smith entered the 2007 season with high hopes personally and for his team. Many “experts” were picking the 49ers as the sleeper team in the NFC. Rodgers entered his third professional once again as the No. 2 behind Favre.
Smith would separate his shoulder in the first series of the game against the Seattle Seahawks on a sack by Rocky Bernard. He would return a month later but was at odds with Nolan as to how severe the injury was.
Nolan felt that Smith was healthy enough to play. However, Smith felt that he needed more time to recover from his shoulder separation.
Smith would be removed from a loss against the Seahawks in November with Nolan citing that his quarterback did need more time to recover.
The injury controversy then hit the press, putting both the quarterback and the coach under the bay area media’s microscope. People were calling for Smith to be cut and Nolan to be fired, but the 49ers management stood behind its coach and quarterback.
After weeks of debate and speculation, Smith was placed on injured reserve after Dr. James Andrews discovered that the separation had not fully healed.
However, the controversy and conversation in the media only increased once word came out that Smith was not healthy enough to play. He would finish the year with the second-lowest completion percentage of any starting quarterback in the NFL.
While Smith was attempting to stay healthy and dealing with a difficult season, Rodgers entered his third professional once again as the No. 2 behind Favre. He saw his first considerable action of his career when he replaced Favre against the Dallas Cowboys.
However, Favre would return the next week and Rodgers was back where he has become accustomed to being: on the bench.
Now, as training camps are beginning to open, both quarterbacks are entering their fourth years with uncertainty.
Rodgers is on the forgotten end of the daily Favre retirement drama while Smith is in a wide-open battle with Shaun Hill for the Niners starting job with his success determining whether Nolan's job is safe.
Time will only tell will only tell whether both 24-year-old quarterbacks will be starting the season under center for their respective teams, but one thing is certain: it will be an eventful few weeks of camp.
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