Alex Smith is returning to the 49ers at a cheaper price than originally ticketed, and that served as fine news Tuesday for the 49ers, who should embrace all comers as their quarterback quandary stretches into a sixth season.

This is not a smart career move for Smith, on the other hand.

So what if he has a chance to win back his starting job? This organization has thoroughly derailed his career since drafting him No. 1 overall in 2005. The in-house overhaul isn't complete, and it's not the greatest environment for a career makeover.

Even if he wins back his starting job, that doesn't mean he's poised to become a successful starter, not with this franchise's recent history and current construction.

He doesn't see it that way, however, as evident by the two-year contract he agreed to Tuesday. He sees a 49ers franchise that is "close" to playoff contention.

"It's pretty easy to see when you're around here," Smith said on a conference call with Bay Area media. "I think back to my first couple years here, the changes that have been made. From top to bottom, the organization is headed in the right direction.

"I definitely get that sense, especially with Coach (Mike) Singletary and some of the things and people he's added. I think we're close. Look at Arizona and see what happened, and the parity in this league."

Yes, but look at the 49ers, and, really, how different are they from the team Smith joined four years ago out of Utah.

The offensive line isn't top flight, and his right shoulder is in as much jeopardy as it was on Sept. 30, 2007, when a sack by Seattle's Rocky Bernard sent Smith's career into a tailspin.

The coaching isn't a proven commodity. That's not to say Singletary hasn't worked wonders since taking over midway through last season for Mike Nolan. The franchise's energy and attitude is on the upswing. But, again, when it comes to Smith's direct coaching, there isn't a proven quarterback guru who can help Smith with the chronicled flaws in his technique. Jimmy Raye marks his fifth coordinator in five years.

The skill positions are also a serious question mark, especially at wide receiver, where Josh Morgan and Brandon Jones will be looking to establish themselves while the 49ers are figuring out if Smith or Shaun Hill is their quarterback.

The competition between Smith and Hill should be a doozey, not necessarily because of their skill set but rather their alliance. Hill served as a groomsman in Smith's wedding last month, and Smith praised Hill for how well he played upon seizing the starting job from J.T. O'Sullivan last season. (Question: Did Joe Montana serve as Steve Young's groomsman? Didn't think so.)

"I can't think of a better guy to compete against," Smith said. "With me and him, it will all be on table. We won't have to worry about anything behind closed doors because we're so close."

The 49ers, for their part, shouldn't just make this a two-man race. They should bring in Jeff Garcia to see if he has the potential to make a riveting encore (and a sage tutor for Smith and Hill). Drafting a quarterback is also a wise idea, though it doesn't have to be with their first-round selection, something they did in 2005 with Smith atop the draft board.

"I felt I had unfinished business here," Smith said. "This team brought me out and gave me my first chance. I had a lot to prove to myself, the organization, the fans. I'm grateful they gave me chance to stay here and be a part of this."

Smith said his shoulder feels great, that he's matured over time and is anxious to play ball again after sitting out all of last season on injured reserve.

Good luck to him. He's got a great attitude. He's a swell guy who was an underdog the day he got drafted No. 1 ahead of Aaron Rodgers (OK, 23 spots ahead of Rodgers). Yes, the 49ers could use a savior at quarterback.

But he's not the only one with unfinished business in that organization. That fact, alone, should have sent him elsewhere to restart his career.

Look for Cam Inman's Web-only "Candid Cam" takes whenever there's a breaking sports story, or whenever Cam's got something to say _ in short, just about every day. You can reach Cam at cinman@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Link to news story on Smith's new deal: www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_11879638