2012 NFL Free Agents: Alex Smith a Safer Choice Than Matt Flynn

Scott CampbellFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22:  Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball
during the second half of the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Matt Flynn is the hottest name among free agent quarterbacks, but the Green Bay understudy also comes with a sizable dose of the unknown. While teams in the market for a signal-caller are sure to be fawning all over Flynn once free agency begins on March 13, the smart ones will also give San Francisco’s Alex Smith a good long look.

Flynn’s appeal soared after his magnificent 480-yard, six-touchdown showing in a victory over the Lions in a regular season finale. But with just two career starts under his belt, signing the 26-year-old is a huge risk-reward proposition.

Flynn is sure to command a lengthy deal with plenty of money up front—four years, with $16 million guaranteed may be the low end—but the fact remains that it’s a huge gamble for a team to make that type of commitment to a largely unproven commodity.

Meanwhile, Smith seems to hardly be generating any interest outside of San Francisco, despite coming off a very encouraging season in which he finished ninth in the NFL in passer rating (90.7) and delivered a momentous playoff win over the Saints.

Though Smith, 27, may lack the upside of Flynn, the career-long Niner is battle-tested after persevering through a rocky first six years and, just as importantly, wouldn’t require the huge financial commitment teams would need to make to get Flynn.

Smith may well sign a two- or three-year deal, which offers a bit of a hedge for the team in case he reverts back to his inconsistent and frustrating performances of years' past. But the player teams really need to hedge on is Flynn.

Any team that feels certain it can predict Flynn’s future success with such a limited sample size of game action needs to look no further than Arizona’s misguided signing of Kevin Kolb a year ago. The Cardinals inked the former Eagle to a five-year, $63 million deal, with $20 million guaranteed, even though Kolb had just seven starts to his name. Perhaps predictably, Kolb had an underwhelming initial year in the desert, throwing nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games and completing just 57.7 percent of his passes.

If Flynn is to receive close to Kolb’s contract from Miami, Washington or another suitor, that team will be taking an enormous gamble. The quarterback just hasn’t proven he’s worthy of anywhere close to that type of commitment.

Signing Smith to a lesser deal would be a much more sound decision, one that would free up more resources to go toward other needs.

A wild card is that all indications suggest Smith has eyes only for San Francisco in this free agency period. Other suitors would likely need to present an offer enticing enough to lure Smith away from a team that was on the cusp of making the Super Bowl and is set to return most of its roster.

Nevertheless, signing Smith wouldn’t require a leap of faith. Teams would know what they’d be getting. But with Flynn, who is expected to command a much larger contract, the jury is still out.