San Francisco 49ers Free Agency 2012: 10 Reasons They Need Alex Smith to Survive
Alex Smith had a breakout year with 49ers last season, posting career bests in all statistical categories and leading the team to their first playoff appearance in a decade. This reason alone should be enough for the club to re-sign the 27-year-old who becomes a free agent in March.
But there are other factors at play that have as much bearing on the continued success of the Bay Area team other than just statistical facts.
In an age dominated by fantasy leagues and in-depth statistical approaches to the game, we tend to forget that there is more to sport than just what shows up on the score sheet. Some like to call it intangibles, but I prefer to leave off labels and take a more holistic approach that encompasses all that which cannot be quantified.
It is just about looking at the game through reality.
Alex Smith has the qualities that are perhaps more important than any stat he has put up for the fantasy hounds. Here are 10 reasons that those qualities should ensure San Francisco re-sign him.
His Relationship with Jim Harbaugh
A lot is made out of the relationship between a quarterback and his coach. Look at any of the greats playing the game now and you will see near father/son relationship with the man in charge: Brady/Belichick, Rodgers/McCarthy, Brees/Payton.
Alex Smith and Jim Harbaugh have this kind of bond.
Harbaugh has been credited as the sole reason for the 49ers reversal of fortunes. His taking charge of the team last offseason seemed to immediately light a fire under the players and give them the fervor and desire to win that they lacked under his predecessors.
But what Harbaugh has done for Smith has been nothing short of a football miracle.
The two interact in a way that neither needs to openly express the chain of command and trust and respect is how the two work with one another. Smith respects Harbaugh to listen to him like he has not other coaches and Harbaugh trusts him to carry out his game plan like other coaches did not.
You cannot have one without the other and this is what makes the bond so unique and difficult to form.
It would be foolish to even ponder the idea of breaking up that relationship only a year in. There is much more that can develop to strengthen the tie and allow them both to get the best out of one another.
At this point, Smith’s future is tied with Harbaugh’s and Harbaugh’s with Smith. If they are separated, there is no telling the consequences it could have.
For six straight seasons Alex Smith has been a miserable disappointment. Every season since his rookie year, the number one overall pick has come to training camp with expectations as low as can be.
He suffered through six different offensive coordinators—none could seem to get him to his potential. He was even further beaten by taking the blame for their firings. In 50 NFL starts between 2005 and 2010, Smith had an abysmal record of 19 wins and 31 losses.
He had not confidence and rightly so.
However, that all changed in 2011. A 13-3 season and NFC West title finally vindicated years of struggle.
Last season was the first time Smith played with any kind of confidence in his game. Give the credit to Harbaugh, the defense or Smith himself, but something obviously changed in the quarterback.
You can look at his highlight reel from this season and see where he was playing with a different look about himself. Even his touchdown throw to Vernon Davis in the playoffs against the New Orleans Saints, which gave them the lead, was a pass you would never have expected Smith to throw a year ago.
Great players have skill and ability, but they stay great by being confident in their play. It is one of the hardest things to build in an athlete and the most fragile thing to hold onto. Smith has it and to allow it to leave Candlestick Park would be a terrible move.
Playing on a team with a loud-mouthed, arrogant coach who has all the big heads in the locker room thinking they are the best thing since sliced bread can do as much harm as good. Just ask Rex Ryan.
But Smith, who knows very well what it is to struggle and be at the bottom, has kept a level head through the San Francisco Renaissance.
With wins over the Lions, the Giants and a blowout victory over the Steelers on Monday Night Football, you could expect Smith’s head to get a little bloated. Instead, he remained humble in his discourse, knowing that at any moment things could come crashing down.
This is the exact kind of attitude you want out of your quarterback. Tom Brady has never once placed himself on a pedestal and even tried to respond for his wife when she berated his teammates following the Super Bowl. After breaking the single-season passing yards record, Drew Brees thanked his offensive line.
This is the way you want your quarterback to respond to praise. Though Smith is nowhere near Brees or Brady in terms of success or ability, his modesty is just along with them and will keep his path toward their greatness a level one.
He Can Take Hits
As I already stated, Smith put up career highs in nearly all his statistical categories in 2011. That surprisingly includes the sack department, where he was brought down 44 times on the season.
The modern quarterback is the closest the game can come to having a coddled baby playing. New rules have made it all but impossible for defensive linemen to go full speed at the quarterback without risking a hefty personal foul call for 15 yards.
But even with the favorable rules, Smith led the league in sacks. Compared to never being in the top 15 most-sacked QBs on the season, this year must have been a wake-up call.
It, of course, has to do with the fact that Smith dropped back more this season than any other, but what is impressive is the way he was able to put up numbers despite the unprecedented amount of hits.
As the game develops more and more into a pure passing one, defenses will work harder to get at the quarterback and put him in the ground. Whether or not Smith can handle the continued physicality over time is yet to be seen, but he has proven at the moment hits will not knock him out of the game mentally.
Just Enough Athleticism
Quarterbacks' arms are not all that are needed any longer to have success in the passing game. You also need a little bit of athleticism.
Smith is not going to turn into Michael Vick or even Aaron Rodgers in this respect. He is probably not even the most athletic quarterback Harbaugh has ever coached (Andrew Luck could give him a run for his money). But he does posses just enough to remain elusive and dynamic.
Most of us will find our best evidence for this in the bootleg to the left against the Saints that shocked everyone, including probably Smith himself. It was not an example of Victor Cruz-like breakaway speed, but it was graceful and quick enough to find the end zone.
As defenses become more oriented to stop the passing game by a good rush, quarterbacks will have to figure become more elusive to buy that extra second. Smith has this ability and can shuffle around just enough to make defensive ends respect their edge.
He Knows His Role
Let’s be honest for a moment: Alex Smith is not destined to be a Hall of Famer and he did not lead the 49ers to the NFC conference championship with his play. He is the caretaker on a defense-first team that opens up the passing lanes with a strong running game.
And you know what? Smith knows this.
It is not often you come across a first overall pick with the humility to realize that he will not be the star of the team. A strong linebacking corps led a defense that was among the best in the league and Frank Gore pounded oppositions into submission.
All Smith had to do was take care of his job, which was to not lose the game.
This is a lot more unique than you would think. Just look at Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets. He was essentially asked to do the same thing Smith has, but has instead tried to step out of his role and be the hero. All it has led to is mocking from a violent fanbase that has shamed and put the future of the quarterback under question.
Smith may have been only 17th in the league in touchdowns, but his five interceptions were best overall. That latter digit has much more impact on the overall results of a team than the first and ultimately determines the level of success for a player.
If Smith were to go, the 49ers would be giving up the best role player in the league.
Part of Smith knowing his role on the team is him being smart when it comes to playing the game. This was no surprise to the 49ers. His score of 40 on the Wonderlic Test proved he had the brains to be productive both on and off the field.
This is something that is nearly impossible to teach a quarterback. It is a combination of experience and instincts meeting that determines how well you read and understand the game. Game smarts is something you either have or you don’t and it never goes away.
Smith has always had it, but five years of unproductive play has overshadowed his intelligence under center. But now that he has a good season behind him, teams are starting to take note of how his brain is a major factor in his success.
At this level of the game, all that separates good from great can be the brain. The 49ers are very fortunate to have an entire team that plays smarter than most. Fans should hope the front office is as well and keeps Smith around.
It’s cliché and redundant, but an important part of Smith’s game—not only because it improves him on the field, but it proves his character.
Smith’s mother, Pam, did an interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this year and commented on her son’s career with the following: “They see it as a story of perseverance…that patience and hard work can pay off.”
The fact that for six miserable seasons and through six offensive coordinators, Smith kept trying to get better and working to prove people wrong says quite a lot about him as a person. It makes any kind of contract you give him a safe bet. Though he may not replicate what he did in 2011, he will always give his best effort and work toward the end you would expect as a coach.
By the time players come to the NFL, they are who they are. You are not going to make any great leaps and bounds to change their personalities or work ethic. Every coach praises their quarterback's effort, but Smith has, against all odds, proven that it can amount to something.
It is fairly obvious that Alex Smith was going to be the future of the 49ers for better or worse. The fact that management shuffled coaches like they came out of a Pez dispenser, rather than making a change at the position, was indicative of this.
It seemed often that this would not work and Smith would have been a bust, but this past season he came through, not only through the on-field performance and ideas I mentioned above, but as the leader of the team.
It is important that a quarterback realizes that the culture of the sport has placed him under the spotlight. Even on a defensive, run-first team, Smith is the one that gets the recognition for the win and is the goat for the loss.
You need to look no further than the playoffs to see this. He was credited with orchestrating a brilliant drive to beat the Saints, despite the big play hitting a wide-open Vernon Davis, who beat poor coverage to run for 50 yards. And he was shamed for losing to the Giants, even though his poor numbers were more near his average than it seemed.
It is not only important that Smith recognizes this (which he has), but that he steps up and accepts it to become the leader of the team.
This year was the first time he looked like the alpha male on the field. All the negativity that once surrounded the other stars like Davis was no longer an issue; Smith took it upon himself to get the team in order.
Leadership is a quality many quarterbacks have and the best master. However, it is one of the few things that cannot be taught, learned or even understood. It is different in every situation and in every clubhouse and right now, Smith has mastered it in San Francisco.
A Fan Favorite
An often underestimated aspect that weighs heavily in any kind of contractual deal is what the player means to the fanbase.
We often forget that sports are a business and that the money through the turnstile is one of the smaller sources of revenue for a team. They make it elsewhere in appearances, jersey sales and marketing.
Through Smith’s success, he has become a local favorite in the Bay Area. Where once to put on a No. 11 jersey was funny Halloween costume, Candlestick Park is now blanketed in them.
It is a fragile and uncertain future, the idea of being a fan favorite, but for now, Smith is the flavor of the month. It would be idiotic to take away what the fans want and potentially drive them away from the product altogether.
Why Do You Want Them to Keep Smith?
Odds are Smith will probably be a 49er next season. Rumors have already circulated about contract extensions that will keep him in the Bay Area for between $8 million to $11 million per season.
But those reasons should not be predicated on a bunch of statistical data. Let's not forget, his career averages are still sub-par and we have no way of knowing whether last season is the player he is or if it was just a good year.
However, the reasons I listed are more or less unwavering and should weigh in heavily in what the 49ers decide to do.
So do you agree with the points I made? Do you have others that should factor in? Or do you think Smith should not be kept at all?
Please make your feelings felt below. Thanks for reading!
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