To be fair, Smith was never ecstatic about seeing Kaepernick on the field after he recovered from a concussion suffered in Week 10 against St. Louis. But there was a time when he was saying all the right things.
Smith's latest comments after head coach Jim Harbaugh named Colin Kaepernick the starting quarterback for Week 13 against St. Louis are as truthful and honest as you will ever hear from an athlete.
Talking to reporters on Friday, Smith said that his benching is not his fault and that his injury was all he did to lose his job (via the Washington Post):
You state your case with your play. I feel like I’ve done that. I feel like the only thing I did to lose my job was get a concussion.
No resentment. I don’t get to make those decisions. That’s what he gets paid to do. He’s the head coach. I play football. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. Continue to get ready. And make the most of my next opportunity.
Smith can't see the forest for the trees.
We can cite the fact that he led the NFL in completion percentage, or had a respectable 13-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, or had a 104.1 quarterback rating or was the quarterback of a team that was 6-2-1 in games he started.
But doing all of that misses the point of what Kaepernick has done and, more importantly, what Smith didn't do.
Any competitor wants to get on the field and play. Given everything that Smith has gone through in his career to get to the point where he is finally playing well enough to be a starting quarterback, he should be angry.
It is the way that Smith is talking now that makes him look bad. If Kaepernick was playing badly, or the offense had taken a significant step back with him starting, no one would think Smith was out of line for being angry.
Yet the one knock against the 49ers the last two years, even as they were playing in the NFC Championship Game against New York last January, was the quarterback position.
Smith is more of a solid, take-no-chances quarterback who can lead a team under the right circumstances. The team around him is perfect for the style that he plays.
Kaepernick gives the 49ers an added dimension, which we first saw against Chicago on Monday Night Football. He can throw the ball down the field with accuracy—something Smith was never effective at doing.
Remember, the 49ers traded up in the draft last year to get Kaepernick in the second round, so they knew what he could do and believed it would translate to the NFL.
Don Banks of Sports Illustrated wrote a detailed article about how much the 49ers, specifically Harbaugh, loved Kaepernick and badly wanted to draft him. Current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer is one of the people Banks talked, to and here is what the former NFL quarterback said about that pick:
Jim fought for drafting Kaepernick. They could have had [Andy] Dalton [who went 35th to Cincinnati, one spot ahead of where the 49ers traded up to]. Everybody wanted Dalton except him. [49ers general manager Trent] Baalke threw him a bone because it was his first year. Kaepernick was his guy. He went and worked him out, he thought he found him, and he swears to this day the only reason Kaepernick went that high was because of the momentum generated because of him. That's his guy.
Harbaugh and the 49ers have not been shy about trying to upgrade the quarterback position. They were flirting hard with Peyton Manning during the offseason, when Smith was a free agent, before he decided to sign with Denver.
Kaepernick can make more plays with his legs than Smith. He is able to move around the pocket to create more time for his receivers to make a play or scramble for 30 yards.
Smith has to know that the 49ers have just looked better and more explosive on offense with Kaepernick leading them. It is fair for Smith to be upset about not being on the field, but the NFL is not about loyalty. It is about doing what is best for the team to win a championship.
There will come a moment when the 49ers need Smith to make a play for them, and when his number gets called, he will go in and do what he has done the last two years. That is what being a good teammate is.
But for Smith to think the 49ers turned to Kaepernick because he suffered a concussion is foolish. The writing has been on the wall for a long time; Harbaugh just needed the right moment to make the change.
The concussion was the right time for Harbaugh, but Kaepernick's play late against St. Louis and then against New Orleans is why he is the starting quarterback of arguably the best team in the NFL and Smith is not.