Alex Smith performed admirably in 2011, but there was always a lingering sense that Jim Harbaugh was the one and only source of his strength. A pregame ritual had Harbaugh pumping up Smith on the sidelines, almost as if Smith were a toy car that needed to be wound up before racing around the track.
It was a race that would inevitably give way to reality.
Smith became a free agent during this offseason. On the surface, the 49ers appeared dedicated to a future with him, but their pursuit of Peyton Manning quietly hinted otherwise. Had the 49ers acquired Manning, they'd be the hands-down favorites to win the Super Bowl in 2012. They didn't get him.
In chasing Manning so vigorously, the 49ers neglected to notice that Brian Hoyer, Matt Leinart, Jason Campbell and Matt Flynn were all looking for work.
After Manning went to the Broncos, the 49ers were essentially trapped in a bind of their own making. They had little choice but to re-sign Alex Smith and force a smile on their face.
Smith's limited talent made him a liability for his team in 2011, and he'll continue to be a liability in 2012.
In a passing league, having a golden quarterback has become a priority of epic proportions. Not only do the 49ers lack an elite quarterback, but the NFC is harder and stronger now.
In addition to the added competition, the 49ers are no longer the dark-horse team that surprised the football community last season. They were flying slightly under the radar, but that's all over now. In 2012, they'll be circled on everybody's schedule and they'll have a target firmly planted on their back.
They grabbed a solid receiver in Mario Manningham, but Manningham needs a guy like Eli Manning to achieve those fleeting moments of glory. Alex Smith is not Eli Manning.
Re-signing Smith wasn't a disaster, but it certainly wasn't a championship move. It was a neutral move that made zero progress. In this league, standing still is deathly.
The 49ers have not helped their chances in 2012, and they will regret their partnership with Alex Smith.