Although Alex Smith had a great season, the jury is still out on if he's the answer at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. I'm a fan of Smith. It was great seeing him finally produce for the team that drafted him No. 1 overall. But Smith has limitations as a player that could hold back the 49ers from ever becoming a routinely dominating team like the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Harbaugh tailored the 49ers offense last season around Smith's shortcomings. Because of the 49ers championship-level defense, strong running and kicking game, Harbaugh didn't ask Smith to do much other than not make mistakes.
He threw the fewest passes of any quarterback that started 16 games. He also threw the second fewest third-down passes. Clearly Harbaugh didn't have the confidence in Smith to let him sling the ball on third down, which is a large reason why the 49ers were such a bad red-zone offense and settled for so many field goals.
49ers fans who feel confident that Smith is the answer at quarterback must ask themselves this—if the Arizona Cardinals acquired a competent quarterback would you still feel good about the 49ers' chances at winning the division?
The 49ers would still be the favorites, but the division definitely wouldn't be a cakewalk like last season. The Cardinals are a quarterback away from being a legitimate team. You could say the same thing about the Seattle Seahawks as well. Improving at quarterback should be a priority to make sure the 49ers stay ahead of everyone in the division.
It's assumed that Smith, who is a free agent, will return to the 49ers. Even if Smith returns, the 49ers should still look at improving the quarterback position. Bringing in some competition may be what Smith needs. Competition will only further Smith's improvement. The 49ers may also find a player who is an improvement over Smith in the process. The team should also look on its own roster, as they drafted Colin Kaepernick in the second round a year ago.
Here is a list of players I could see becoming the team's future play-caller: