Incumbent 49ers quarterback Alex Smith hopped on a cross-country, red-eye flight Saturday night to make his first-ever free agency visit to the Miami Dolphins.
Smith will meet today with the Dolphins, who have also courted former Packers quarterback Matt Flynn and ex-Colts icon Peyton Manning.
A wrench was thrown into Smith's free-agent itinerary when Flynn signed a three-year, $28 million deal Sunday with the Seattle Seahawks. The Sacramento Bee reported earlier that Smith, upset that the 49ers have offered him only a three-year contract, was slated to visit the Seahawks this week.
"This is the NFL. I guess nothing surprises me anymore," Smith told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel upon arriving Sunday morning in Fort Lauderdale. "I never thought a year ago (Peyton) Manning would be a free agent either. I'm never surprised by anything."
Smith has been with the 49ers since they made him the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. After some rocky seasons and annual changes to his offensive coordinator, Smith broke out in 2011 as the 49ers went 14-4 and reached the NFC Championship Game.
Based on public comments from both sides, Smith's re-signing with the 49ers seemed inevitable. That is until the 49ers worked out Manning last Tuesday in North Carolina.
Manning, an 11-time Pro Bowler coming off neck surgery, is expected to announce his plans Monday or Tuesday. He also has worked out for the Denver Broncos and Tennessee
"He's a Hall of Famer, first ballot, that's all I got to say," 49ers running back Frank Gore told the Associated Press. "He's one of the best ever to play the game."
Although Gore called the 49ers' turbulent quarterback search "crazy," he expressed confidence in coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke.
"I know coach Harbaugh and Trent Baalke feel good about what they're doing," Gore said. "They know what they're doing."
Smith's visit to South Florida is the first free agency trip of his career. He was on the market briefly last season but was fully committed to the 49ers, having been given their playbook and organized player-only workouts during the labor lockout.
News of Smith's late-night flight was broken on Twitter by a fellow passenger, David Hsu, who happens to blog about the Seattle Seahakws. Another passenger posted a picture of Smith arriving in Florida.
Smith returned to the 49ers in August on a one-year deal worth $6.5 million, including $2.5 million through incentives. He has been offered a three-year, $24 million contract, SFGate.com reported Saturday.
"Alex is trying to figure out what he wants to do," 49ers CEO Jed York said Monday. "There've been good conversations back and forth. Hopefully Alex gets everything locked up soon. ... We want Alex here."
In the past 14 months, the Dolphins have come up empty in some very public courtings, including those for Manning, Harbaugh and current St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
On Jan. 20, the Dolphins hired former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as their coach in January. Philbin had worked under Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who was Smith's offensive coordinator with the 49ers his rookie season and ran a version of the West Coast offense with which Smith likely is familiar.
If Smith and Manning sign elsewhere, the 49ers likely would promote Colin Kaepernick, who served as Smith's understudy last season after being drafted in the second round out of Nevada.
"I woke up to my timeline blowing up lol did I miss something?" Kaepernock posted Sunday on Twitter.
Other quarterbacks who could be on the 49ers' radar: Flynn, Matt Hasselbeck (if he's released by the Titans upon Manning choosing them) and former Buccaneers' backup Josh Johnson, who played under Harbaugh at the University of San Diego;
Smith started every game last season and produced six victories via fourth-quarter comebacks, including a 36-32 home thriller over the New Orleans Saints for the 49ers' first playoff win in nine years.
Smith and Manning have shared the same agent, Tom Condon of CAA Sports, although Smith reportedly is weighing whether to change representation.
In other news, free agent offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz revealed on Twitter that he plans to visit the 49ers on Tuesday, a day after meeting with the Vikings. Also, former Jets tight end Matthew Mulligan is also expected to visit the 49ers.
David Garrard, who sat out last season with a back injury after being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, announced on Twitter that he'll work out for the Dolphins on Monday.