SANTA CLARA Not only did Alex Smith understand the 49ers' pursuit of Peyton Manning last week, he said he would have "relished" an opportunity to compete with the four-time NFL MVP for the starting quarterback job.
It's hard to believe that the 49ers would have signed both Smith and Manning, but the statement underscored Smith's insistence Wednesday that he wasn't offended by the flirtation with a high-profile passer and is as happy as ever with coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers.
"As good as they've always been and getting better," Smith said of his relationships. "The thing from Day One when I first met coach Harbaugh is that he's always been upfront, he's always been honest with me. And he continued to do that through this entire process, and that's one of the reasons I love playing for him."
Smith had reason to put on a good face.
On Wednesday, he signed the three-year contract that at the end of last season seemed like a formality. The deal is for as much as $33 million if every incentive is met, and it includes a reported $16.5 million in guarantees.
That suggests the 49ers, normally rigid when it comes to negotiations, sweetened their offer in order to reel in Smith, who had visited the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The initial offer, one that had been on the table for 2 1/2 weeks, would have paid as much as $24 million and included $10 million in guarantees.
Smith joked that he used the Dolphins visit to see Miami Beach for the first time. Later, he said the visit "seemed serious at the time, but this was the plan all along. This is where I wanted to be."
Harbaugh was seen Monday speeding away from team headquarters for an hour-long meeting at Smith's home. As it turns out, Harbaugh had been sitting down with Smith and having phone conversations with him throughout the process.
Smith said that Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke visited him at one point to explain to Smith their flirtation with Manning, who ultimately chose to sign with the Denver Broncos. Smith would not say whether that meeting occurred before or after March 13, the day Harbaugh flew cross-country to watch Manning work out.
The closest Smith came to saying he was disappointed in the team's interest in Manning was that it was a "little unexpected." Otherwise, he said he understood why the 49ers would want to land Manning.
"It would be about competition and the best man winning," Harbaugh explained to Smith, according to Smith. "And, really, that's the way it's always been with Jim. It was 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 agreed with it. That's the nature of this game going all the way back to when it first started it's about competition."
Smith seemed more than willing to sweep away any hard feelings that may have developed during the process and get on with the 2012 season. When the 49ers return to the practice field in May, Smith will find two new wide receivers on offense, 13-year veteran Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, whose two-year contract is expected to be completed today.
"When your last name can all of a sudden become a verb he got Mossed, as the receivers say I mean, he's a special player," Smith said. " And I'm really excited about this offseason to put the work in, to put the time in. To have an offseason to build on what we did last year and get better, because we certainly have room for it and need to get better."
Smith has had rocky relationships with two previous coaches, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, but he insisted that he and Harbaugh remain on the plateau that Smith reached in 2011 when he had his best season in seven years.
"I've been through way worse than this," he said. "Free agency is always going to be a little crazy maybe this year a little crazier than most."