San Francisco 49ers: Why Alex Smith Has Earned Another Year

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San Francisco 49ers: Why Alex Smith Has Earned Another Year
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Let me get this right.

Quarterback Alex Smith just turned in the season of his life, taking the San Francisco 49ers to a 14-4 record and missing the Super Bowl by a whisker.

And people out there are saying the 49ers should get rid of him.

Silly me. All this time, I thought LSD was illegal.

But I guess not, because the people who think San Francisco can do better at quarterback next year are just plain hallucinating.

In their blurred and oscillating vision, they’re conjuring Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning in a red jersey and gold helmet. Forget the neck injury and questions about whether it’s fully healed. For sure, man—dump Alex and let Peyton lead the 49ers to Canaan. Like, you know, it could happen.

Even if Manning were to be released by the Colts, with whom he is currently under contract, the 49ers wouldn’t be alone in pursuing him. According to recent reports by the Miami Herald and Yahoo! Sports, the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets may all be interested in Manning.

I say let them all have a feeding frenzy, while the 49ers stay put with Smith.

Why?

For the first time, Smith showed this year that he could run the team. His performances against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints proved he could win big games. And his touchdown throws to tight end Vernon Davis against the Saints and the New York Giants demonstrated he can make big plays.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In the NFC Championship game, Niners fans were justifiably frustrated by the lack of offensive production, and especially the 1-for-13 performance on third down. But if it had been David Akers kicking the winning field goal instead of the Giants’ Lawrence Tynes, we wouldn’t be hearing the chorus to replace Smith.

At least, not yet.

All this is not to say that Smith has reached perfection. He could have mortally wounded a couple of gophers in the fourth quarter against the Giants. And his generally poor performance in the red zone may have been why head coach Jim Harbaugh called running plays against New York when it seemed a pass was in order—especially inside the 10-yard line on the drive where Harbaugh eventually had Akers kick a tying field goal instead of aggressively pressing for the lead.

But if Smith is still a much-improved work in progress, there are two related places where the 49ers need to raise the bar significantly if he is to have chance to win—wide receiver and the offensive line.

With regard to the first, the problem might resolve itself next year with a healthy Joshua Morgan (who, incidentally, is a free agent). But if not, the 49ers (and the rest of the league) have a wealth of free-agent wideouts to choose from this year. My personal favorite is Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers, followed by Doug Baldwin of the Seattle Seahawks and Dwayne Bowe of the Kansas City Chiefs.

On the offensive line, the 49ers are ranked seventh-worst in the league this year in sacks allowed, with 44. It could have been worse—the league-leading St. Louis Rams surrendered 55—but Smith still spent significant time scrambling or taking a hit for a loss. As strongly as the offensive line plays in the running department, it needs to do the same with its pass-blocking.

Once better wide receivers and more skillful blocking are in place, it will be fair to say the team has surrounded Smith with all the tools he needs. Then, if the 49ers stay healthy and Smith still doesn’t deliver, we can start clamoring for a new QB.

But until that day, anyone who says the 49ers can do better needs to take a long nap and let the hallucinogens wear off.

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