After Colin Kaepernick Named Starter, What's Next for Alex Smith?

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterNovember 29, 2012

November 25, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA;  San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) paces the sidelines during first quarter of their game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) started the game instead of Smith. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE
John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE

It finally appears as if we can put the Colin Kaepernick-Alex Smith starting quarterback nonsense behind us. Wednesday, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh announced that Kaepernick would indeed be the starter heading into Week 13.

did anyone really believe Harbaugh was doing anything other than start Kaepernick? as if he left himself a choice? #fauxdrama

— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) November 28, 2012

Let's be honest, did anyone really expect Smith to get his job back? Kaepernick is the 49ers' future, and Harbaugh realized that it makes no sense to delay the future for a guy who is limited in what he can do. Smith will never have the same physical tools as No. 7, and there's no reason to go back to a guy who doesn't give you any better chance to win.

With Kaepernick being named the starter, only one question remains: What does all this mean for Alex Smith? Well apparently, Smith needs to continue to prepare as if he were the starting quarterback, and here's why.

Wednesday Coach Harbaugh was asked—just to clarify, you're saying Colin Kaepernick is the starting quarterback moving forward. It's not a one week thing? Here's what he had to say (h/t Matt Maiocco, "I wouldn't assume anything. I know you probably will, but I'd assume nothing."

That answer there leaves the door open for Smith to return as the starter if Kaepernick does indeed struggle, yet I would imagine he would really have to tank this audition for No. 11 to get his job back. Harbaugh is no dummy—he knows that if he makes the switch to the kid there's no turning back.

A two-quarterback system isn't the answer, and for confidence reasons you can't start flip-flopping if things do indeed hit a couple of rough stretches. The coaching staff has complete confidence in the ability of Kaep, and you could hear it in Coach Harbaugh's response to this telling question.

With a young quarterback like Colin, do you have to be prepared for some bumps in the road? "Like I said, we worry about everything as a coach. That's a part of my job. But as a coach and as a team, we don't fear any moment or circumstance or other man."

Let's shift our focus from the short term to the long term and see what Smith's future holds for him in 2013 and beyond. There's no question he can play, in the right system. That's the thing, he has to be in the right system to succeed. He is a type of quarterback that doesn't elevate the play of others, he benefits from other areas of success on the team.

For example, the two biggest things he had going for him in San Francisco was an elite defense, one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and an incredible running game. On his next stop, he will need those same things if you expect him to take your team to the NFC/AFC Championship game.

Smith isn't Eli Manning or Tom Brady—you can't ride him to the promised land. As much as he doesn't like to admit it, he's a glorified game manager, plain and simple. It's not a knock on him, because honestly some NFL quarterbacks don't ever achieve that same status.

Moreover, if anyone thinks San Francisco is going to pay a glorified game manager $8.5 million next year to be a backup, you're crazy. The 49ers can cut him with little ramifications because Smith already received most of his guaranteed money this year. The only thing the 49ers are out if they cut him is a cool million. 

Hmm, $1 million to hit the road, or $8.5 million to hold a clipboard? I know which one I'm choosing, and so do you.

For those that think Alex Smith's career is over... he's younger than Brandon Weeden.

— Benjamin Allbright (@NFLDraftMonster) November 28, 2012

Another thing to keep in mind is that even though Smith is an eight-year pro, he is still younger than Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. Hard to believe, but he was drafted a such a young age. Which in turn means there may still be room for some growth under the right tutelage.

It has been a long ride for the former No. 1 pick, yet it hasn't been a bad ride either. Many wrote him off years ago—no one expected him to be under center when the 49ers made their first appearance in the NFC Championship game since the 1997-98 season.

He will catch on somewhere without a doubt; however, this season in his life is coming to an end. San Francisco has found its quarterback of the future, and there is no turning back, yet there will be plenty of starting jobs up for grabs next year.

Teams like the Jaguars, Raiders, Chiefs and Bills will be looking to bolster the quarterback position, and by the looks of it, Smith should have his pick considering he's more likely to be cut than traded. Another scenario would be Smith following offensive coordinator Greg Roman if he were to get a head coaching gig somewhere. 

Let the speculation of his potential landing spot begin—wait, it already has.


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