Fact or Fiction: Alex Smith Is San Francisco 49ers' Quarterback of the Future
With his 2011 performance, Alex Smith made his case to be the quarterback of the future for the San Francisco 49ers. He led the team to its first 13-win season in nearly 15 years and their first playoff appearance since 2002.
In doing so he drastically changed his relationship with the organization while exponentially increasing his value.
Now, instead of searching for a job this offseason, he has the San Francisco front office and coaching staff all but begging him to return.
The 49ers, though, must be careful.
After such a productive season, they must decide exactly how Smith fits into the team’s future. They need to consider the pieces that made him successful in 2011 and if they are going to be around for upcoming years as well.
Smith was great this past season, but can he duplicate that performance in the years to come?
Fact: Alex Smith Works in Jim Harbaugh’s Scheme
Despite the tremendous skepticism surrounding him in 2011, Alex Smith thrived under his new head coach. He displayed poise in the pocket and leadership of the offense that he had yet to showcase since being drafted in 2005. Each Sunday, Smith and Jim Harbaugh displayed to San Francisco exactly what a good relationship between coach and quarterback can accomplish.
Therefore, the 49ers decision on Smith hinges largely on Harbaugh.
Harbaugh trusts Smith to run his complex system. From the day he was given the job, he stood firmly behind him as the quarterback. Likewise, Smith is clearly confident in directing the offense and believes in his success in it.
Given that Harbaugh is going to be on the sidelines for at least the next four years, it is safe to assume Smith could continue to thrive.
Fiction: Alex Smith Makes the 49ers a Superior Football Team
Alex Smith is not, and likely never will be, a difference-making quarterback. Even this year in his best season he only had 22 touchdowns in 18 games. He is not Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady.
However, he does not have to be with the construction of the 49ers.
The Niners' defense is what separates them from their opponents. As long as the defense remains the staple of the team, Smith is a good option.
While he may not be able to outright win games for the red and gold, Smith certainly can manage them. He does not turn the ball over, understands the importance of field position, gets first downs with his arm and legs, and, as he showcased in the playoffs, can find receivers for big plays.
Fact: Alex Smith Struggled Prior to 2011
As remarkable as last year was for Smith, the 49ers cannot look at it in a vacuum.
In deciding his future with the team, Trent Baalke and the San Francisco front office must look at his entire career. They must decide if this season was the real Alex Smith, or if it was just a strong performance in an otherwise tumultuous career.
If they sign him to be their quarterback of the future, will they be getting the competitor who completed 61 percent of his passes, had a quarterback rating of over 90 and only threw five interceptions? Or will they be signing the player who in his six seasons prior to 2011 only had one in which he did not throw double-digit interceptions (2007) and had a completion rate better than 60 percent (2009)?
With Jim Harbaugh around, the smart money is on the former.
Fiction: Alex Smith Cannot Repeat His 2011 Performance
If Smith returns he will operate under the same offensive system in consecutive years for the first time in his career. He will have experienced a full season playing with the Harbaugh playbook, plus a full offseason to work on and add new options.
As smart and dedicated as he is, there is no reason to believe he cannot duplicate or even surpass his output from this past year.
In fact, he had a considerable amount of success in 2011 without a true No. 1 wide receiver. Vernon Davis became a legitimate target down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he is a tight end.
If the 49ers are able to add a legitimate receiving threat this offseason, Smith could easily have his best years in San Francisco in front of him.
Fact: Alex Smith Is the Team’s Quarterback of the Future
This all leads to the conclusion that Alex Smith is in fact the team’s future quarterback. At this time, everything is in place for him to be successful and help lead this team to the Super Bowl.
As with any organization, though, a statement about the future hinges on the current circumstances.
Smith has shown he is not a player you can build a team around. For that reason, the 49ers should only commit to him as long as they are going to operate in the system that made them successful in 2011.
With that being said, Smith does what the 49ers need a quarterback to do. In one year, he and Jim Harbaugh have proved they can move the Niners towards a championship. If Smith is signed for the next two or three years there is no reason to believe they cannot take the ultimate next step.