San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh made the least surprising announcement of the season on Wednesday when he named Colin Kaepernick the team's starting quarterback for Week 13. In reality, it should become a permanent tag.
Harbaugh: Colin Kaepernick will start Sunday.— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) November 28, 2012
Whether you agree with the decision to hand Kaepernick the spot or not, everybody should be in agreement that Harbaugh has gone too far to turn back now. Weekly questions about who is going to start under center is not good for anybody.
Alex Smith was having a solid season. In fact, he ranks fifth in quarterback rating and has come a long way since his early-career struggles. Alas, he doesn't bring the same tools to the table that the versatile Kaepernick has shown off in his first two starts.
Harbaugh clearly believes the second-year rising star's upside is more valuable than Smith's consistency. That's fine. His track record since taking over the team last season is terrific, meaning he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
It's hard not to be impressed with Kaepernick. In two starts, he's led the 49ers to victories over the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints while accounting for four touchdowns and just one turnover. He certainly passes the eye test.
Now that he's seen him in extended game action, Harbaugh should get completely behind his new starter. By only naming him the starter for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams, he leaves himself open to another quandary next week.
What happens if Kaepernick isn't as dynamic as he's been for the past two weeks? After all, he's a young quarterback going through his first stretch as a starter. There are undoubtedly going to be some rough patches, especially as defenses adjust.
If he switches back to Smith at that point—who can't be pleased to have been benched due to injury—and the veteran struggles in the first half of next week's game, does he switch back during halftime?
It's an endless cycle of questions that will only get more complicated with every switch he makes. These types of issues also tend to divide a locker room if given the chance to linger, as players begin to choose sides in the debate.
The 49ers are on track for another deep run in the playoffs. A drawn-out quarterback controversy is the last thing the team needs, and would put the entire promising season in jeopardy.
To avoid that fate, Harbaugh should name Kaepernick the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
He's going to endure some growing pains along the way, but Harbaugh's decision this week made a clear statement about which QB he believes gives the 49ers a better chance to win right now. It shouldn't change on a weekly basis.
Ultimately, Harbaugh must do whatever it takes to avoid a quarterback controversy and the distractions that come with it. Naming Kaepernick the permanent starter would accomplish that.