The San Francisco 49ers are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball (especially on defense), making them among the major contenders to win the Super Bowl this upcoming season.
Of course, Super Bowl championships are rarely won without a championship-caliber quarterback leading the team, which currently leaves the 49ers with a dilemma.
The San Francisco 49ers were among the three finalists in the battle to sign four-time NFL MVP and future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, but at the time of publication, Manning is in negotiations to sign with the Denver Broncos.
As it appears that they have missed out on Manning, the 49ers should now make their best efforts to re-sign Alex Smith. Smith, who led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last season with a fourth-quarter playoff victory over the Saints, proved he is capable of leading the team to postseason success.
However, it has become apparent that while the 49ers would welcome Smith back into the fold, they may not be willing to offer him the big contract he is expecting. Reportedly, the 49ers have offered him a three-year, $24 million contract, and so far, they have stood firm on that offer.
The reasoning behind their reluctance to pay big for Smith is the presence of a quarterback already on their roster, Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers selected Kaepernick with the 36th overall selection of the 2011 NFL draft. Entering his second season, Kaepernick has the talent to be a very good starting quarterback in the National Football League and is viewed as the team’s long-term franchise quarterback.
Because Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, the 49ers would have made a smart exception for him and given him a big contract to supplant Kaepernick as the franchise quarterback. Signing Manning and adding him to the 49ers’ talent-loaded roster would have immediately made them a favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl.
While Alex Smith easily had the best season of his career last season in his first year under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, the team may be less inclined to make a big commitment to him with Kaepernick waiting in the wings. For 2012, Smith would be the best remaining option to start at quarterback for the 49ers if they are to contend for a championship, but the 49ers should have plans for Kaepernick to be their eventual starting quarterback.
Last year, I ranked Kaepernick as my No. 2 quarterback in the 2011 NFL draft class. Four quarterbacks ranked behind him were drafted ahead of him. Among them, ninth-ranked Andy Dalton has established himself as the franchise quarterback in Cincinnati, fourth-ranked Blaine Gabbert has struggled badly in Jacksonville, 11th-ranked Christian Ponder has shown signs of potential in Minnesota and, like Kaepernick, fifth-ranked Jake Locker spent his rookie season as a backup.
Coming out of college, there was much to like about Kaepernick as a quarterback prospect. He has a terrific arm, throws the ball accurately, has great poise and pocket presence and is a terrific athlete who is a threat to scramble outside of the pocket and run with the football.
Kaepernick was very productive for Nevada, leading his team to a 13-win season as a senior while becoming only the third quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Additionally, he displayed tremendous intangibles and the ability to make big plays and lead his team to victory when the game is on the line.
With a year of development under Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback who has a tremendous track record developing players at the position, Kaepernick should only be getting better as a quarterback. While he may not quite be ready to lead a team to the Super Bowl, he should be successful and prepared when he is called upon as a starting quarterback, even if that is for the championship-contending 49ers in the upcoming season.
While missing out on both Peyton Manning and Alex Smith would be a significant detriment to the 49ers’ chances of winning a Super Bowl, the team’s fans should not panic. The 49ers got terrific value when they traded up in the second round to select Kaepernick in last year’s draft, and they should not let their investment go to waste.
Remember, San Francisco, that one of your own, Tom Brady, was an unproven player in his second season when he took over the New England Patriots 11 seasons ago and led them to a Super Bowl championship. It can be done, and while Kaepernick may never be Brady, he is a talented quarterback who would be a worthy leader for a very talented team.
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