Of course, this would be shocking news if it hadn't happened so many times over the past eight years. So, for the sake of history, let’s revisit the graveyard of quarterbacks that tried to unseat Alex Smith but ultimately failed.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Weinke, JT O’Sullivan, David Carr
Tim Rattay (2005)
Remember Timmeh? Big time Timmeh R.? The former seventh-round pick of the 2000 draft warmed the 49ers' bench for a few years as a backup to then starting quarterback Jeff Garcia.
Rattay showed some potential as a stand-in during the 2003 season, so when the 49ers cut Garcia the following year due to salary cap constraints, they hoped Rattay would deliver as a full-time starter.
Unfortunately, Rattay struggled with injuries and weak protection. As his interceptions piled up, the team's faith in him plummeted, leading to the firing of then coach Dennis Erickson and the drafting of Alex Smith with the number one overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
New 49ers' coach Mike Nolan traded Rattay to Tampa Bay for a sixth-round draft pick during the 2005 season. The move was seen as unwavering support for then-rookie quarterback, Alex Smith. As for Rattay, his NFL career ended at the age of 30 as a backup on the Arizona Cardinals.
Ken Dorsey (2005)
The 49ers selected Dorsey in the seventh round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He split starting time with Rattay during the horrific 2004 season that saw the 49ers lose 14 games.
Dorsey started seven games that year and finished with a dismal passer rating of 62.4, throwing nine interceptions along the way. When Alex Smith went down with injuries the following year in 2005, Dorsey filled in and posted a lowly passer rating of 66.9.
Needless to say, the 49ers had seen enough of Dorsey and traded him during the offseason to Cleveland along with a draft pick for veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer. In his final season for the Browns in 2008, Dorsey threw seven interceptions and zero touchdowns.
By the age of 27, Dorsey’s NFL career was over.
Cody Pickett (2005)
Yes, the 49ers used ANOTHER seventh-round draft pick on a quarterback, this time in 2004. Fortunately, Cody Pickett’s awful tenure in the NFL was short-lived. He threw two interceptions in 2004 and two in 2005. He never threw a single touchdown in his two-year NFL career with the 49ers.
The only reason Pickett even started was because of injuries to Smith and Dorsey. Otherwise, he was used on special teams most of the season. His NFL career was over by the age of 25.
Trent Dilfer (2007)
The 49ers finally stopped drafting awful quarterbacks in the seventh round, choosing instead to bring in a veteran to restore some order and hopefully some wisdom.
Enter journeyman quarterback Trent Dilfer. If they were hoping his experience and knowledge would rub off on Alex Smith, it didn’t work out so well.
Smith injured his shoulder midway through the season, leading to Dilfer getting the starting nod. In six games, Dilfer threw 12 interceptions and posted a dismal passer rating of 55.1.
As a side note, I distinctly remember attending a Ravens vs. 49ers game at Candlestick Park that year, clenching my fists in anger as an inept 49ers' offense was trounced 9-7. At the end of the season, Dilfer hung up the football cleats for good.
Shaun Hill (2009)
Remember Shaun Hill? He came out of nowhere, NFL Europe to be exact. When Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer went down with injuries in the disastrous 2007 campaign, Hill emerged as bright spot behind center. In two games that year, he posted an impressive 101.3 quarterback rating, throwing five touchdowns and only one interception.
2008 would prove to be an opportunistic year for Hill. Alex Smith would miss the whole season with injuries, and although journeyman JT O'Sullivan earned the starting job at the beginning of the year, the firing of coach Mike Nolan sparked a transition to Hill.
Hill would finish the season 5-3 as a starter, with 13 touchdowns and an 87.5 passer rating. The following year, Alex Smith returned from injury to challenge Hill for the starting job. Hill started the 2009 season out well, but slipped to 3-3 as a starter before new coach Mike Singletary benched him in favor of Alex Smith.
Smith threw a career-high 18 touchdowns in only 10 games, finishing the season 5-5 as a starter. Although Hill and Smith had similar passer ratings for the season, the 49ers opted to trade Hill to the Detroit Lions for a draft pick during the offseason.
Shaun Hill is currently a back-up to starting quarterback Matt Stafford on the Detroit Lions.
Troy Smith (2010)
The 49ers entered the 2010 season with Alex Smith penciled in as the starter. Still, the 49ers decided to sign Troy Smith—a former Heisman Trophy winner—as a backup before the start of the season. This would yet again sow the seeds of another quarterback controversy.
Now, 2010 was supposed to be a breakout year for the 49ers, but after losing six of the their first seven games, coach Mike Singletary benched Alex in favor of Troy.
Although Troy Smith showed potential early on, his completion percentage declined in subsequent games and his turnovers piled up. What ensued over the final weeks of Singletary's head coaching career with the 49ers was a bizarre and random rotation of Alex and Troy.
The 49ers' season would spiral into oblivion as they missed the playoffs for the eighth straight year. Troy Smith hasn't played in the NFL for nearly two years.
Who knows what will become of the 49ers' latest quarterback controversy. It's not the first time Alex Smith has missed a game or two because of injury, and it's not the first time his replacement has put up respectable numbers in a game or two.
The real question is, can Colin Kaepernick continue to grow as a passer and hold onto the starting role, or will he falter? If he does falter as his predecessors have (e.g. Shaun Hill, Troy Smith, etc.), then Alex Smith stands an excellent chance to regain his starting job.
So get your popcorn ready; this is going to be interesting.