As the 49ers enter training camp, there is mass competition an array of position groups. In Jim Harbaugh’s first offseason after completing his debut campaign, he sought out players to fill out his roster.
San Francisco has added a lot of depth throughout, which includes the quarterback position. The front office re-signed Alex Smith to a three-year deal and have him as the clear-cut starter going forward after he posted 14 wins last year, including the postseason.
When Harbaugh was brought aboard in 2011, he and Trent Baalke used their second pick to kick off the new regime on quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick was a polished NCAA record-setter who turned the Nevada program around by providing dynamism from the quarterback position. And considering Harbaugh’s history with passers, it seemed like a home run for the future of the 49ers.
However, if all goes to plan, San Francisco will have a starter for the next three-plus years. And behind Kaepernick, the Niners have Scott Tolzien, but more importantly, and for argument’s sake, they have Josh Johnson.
Josh Johnson is made from a similar cloth as Kaepernick in that they are all-purpose threats: a danger to hurt defenses with their arm and legs. Johnson is a former project of the one-time University of San Diego coach, Jim Harbaugh. Johnson improved every season under Harbaugh, and thus, the entire program made strides.
In Harbaugh's debut season with San Diego in 2004, the Toreros went 7-4. In the following two seasons, Harbaugh and Johnson put together back-to-back 11-1 seasons in which Johnson's statistics were eye-popping, but somehow constantly improving.
In fact, Harbaugh's coaching history suggests that every program will improve under his guidance and the teams will have consistency from the QB position. Take a look at Stanford's annual ascension under Harbaugh, courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
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In 2006, the season prior to Harbaugh's arrival, Stanford went 1-11. Both offenses—Stanford and San Diego—featured proficiency from the quarterback, helping to support the argument that Harbaugh is a guru at the position. Harbaugh went on to say this offseason that he believes the team has four starting quarterbacks currently on the roster as they head into training camp.
And the truth is, Johnson could be as good as Kaepernick, as many are expecting a close competition at camp.
While Kaepernick does have a high ceiling, the 49ers could soon find out that retaining his services beyond his rookie contract might not be necessary, especially with Johnson in the picture. In anticipating such a scenario playing out, the 49ers could trade Kaepernick for ammunition in next year’s draft, of which they already have more than most teams.
If the 49ers were daring enough, they could explore such a radical option in order to make their team better in the long run. The 49ers could look to get better at other positions:
OL: If the Alex Boone experiment does not work out, the 49ers may want to look to acquire a top offensive lineman in the 2013 draft. With more picks to deal, Baalke can maneuver around and find the perfect counterpart to Mike Iupati. Or, with an entire offseason, they could bump Anthony Davis inside to right guard and draft a dominant pure tackle.
WR: While the wide receiving corps is currently loaded, what lies beyond 2012 is uncertainty. Randy Moss more than likely won't be returning, Mario Manningham hasn't played a down for the Niners yet and is on a short-term deal and Michael Crabtree is soon approaching the end of his rookie contract. A.J. Jenkins has also raised a lot of questions, and his potential success in this league is yet to be determined. San Francisco could find itself targeting a receiver again in the not-too-distant future.
FS: When he shows up, Dashon Goldson will be playing under the team's one-year franchise tag, and his future with the team is very much up in the air. If the 49ers cannot reach a deal with him after this season, the 49ers will have a hole to fill on their very stout defensive unit. The 49ers may want to get their hands on a defensive back in the 2013 NFL draft going forward at the position. And once again, if they were able to add picks via the potential Kaepernick trade, they could better control their position and select their desired player.
On top of adding talent elsewhere, it must be reinforced that San Francisco may have its quarterback for the next half decade. It would be cruel to lock up Kaepernick, who is a talent, if it had no intentions of using him or if it felt Johnson could do the job just as well, if not better.
Also, there is the possibility that Alex Smith outperforms his contract and earns the right to restructure his deal. The 49ers are talking about a title run in 2012 after all. If the 49ers win a Super Bowl this year or next, could the 49ers really cut ties with Smith? Given the history and bond between the two, it would challenge Harbaugh's integrity and everything he stands for as a coach.
And while this may be a far-fetched proposal, it is within the realm of reason—stranger things have happened in the NFL, which is, at the end of the day, a business.
Possible Interested Teams
The Jaguars are getting closer to being a threat again; unfortunately, I believe they missed on their quarterback. Jacksonville has some real weapons, looking strong now with a corps of players built of Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson and Mercedes Lewis. If the Jags had a quarterback to tie it all together, they have a defense to make them a playoff regular in the AFC.
Similar to the Jaguars, the Chiefs have a plethora of weapons on the offensive side of the football, but is Matt Cassel capable of leading them to the promise land?
Kansas City could greatly benefit from having Colin Kaepernick. He could provide competition right away and be ready to start if Cassel proves to be the apparent weakness restricting Kansas City of its full potential. It would be an easier transition for Kaepernick considering the weapons he would have to work with on offense.
I buy the argument that Tom Brady has five good years left in him. But I also believe circumstances arise and the tides change. If Brady can win a fourth Super Bowl and tie his idol, Joe Montana, and given the culture of the league that is inherently dangerous, Brady may want to call it a career before age 40.
The Patriots may be open to bringing someone like Kaepernick in now so he can learn from Brady to be a more pure passer, since his athletic ability is already up to par. If the 49ers were compelled, they could attempt to swap Kaepernick for Ryan Mallett and a possible mid-to-late rounder.