Should the San Francisco 49ers Let Alex Smith Walk This Offseason?
Alex Smith was replaced at quarterback by Colin Kaepernick earlier this season following a concussion and Kaepernick's transcendent performance in his stead against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Through no fault of his own, Smith's time as the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has come to end. He is signed to a team-friendly contract that lets them part ways with him at any point in the next two offseasons for "only" one million dollars.
The question is, do the 49ers simply release Smith and let him walk, should they try to trade him, or should they simply keep him on board as a well-paid backup quarterback?
Most people would argue that the 49ers should trade him for a draft pick or three. I am not most people.
The 49ers should release Smith outright and pray that he ends up getting picked up by the Arizona Cardinals. Of all of Smith's likely suitors, Arizona is probably the destination he would prefer to go, if for no other reason than Smith would get two cracks a year at the team that unceremoniously banished him to the bench.
The 49ers should look at things in a similar light. If the coaching staff and front office aren't sold on Smith—and clearly they aren't, since he isn't the starter anymore despite being healthy enough to get back on the field—why not release him and hope he lands on a team that they'll play twice a year?
They could try to trade him to Arizona, but there is no way that Arizona would make an offer worth Smith's services to a team within their own division. I suppose they could simply take whatever offer Arizona makes for his services even if it isn't the best one on the table, but for appearance's sake it might be best to avoid such impropriety.
No, the 49ers should simply hope that Smith ends up in Arizona, so they can eviscerate him twice a year.
Let's face it. As well as Smith has played for the 49ers this season and last, he is a limited quarterback and head coach Jim Harbaugh knows those limitations better than anyone other than Smith himself. He's spent the better part of two years minimizing those limitations within the 49er offense, and there is no doubt that Harbaugh knows how to expose them as well as he's hidden them.
Arizona will definitely be looking to upgrade at the quarterback position next year, and Smith may represent the best option available, other than the draft. However, the way young quarterbacks have been playing in the NFL the past two seasons, it may behoove the 49ers to help ensure they play a proven commodity twice next year.
And to them, Smith is a known commodity, a quarterback who they can they pack the line of scrimmage with both safeties against and completely disregard the deep ball. Given Arizona's deficient-at-best running game, taking steps to ensure that Arizona ends up with a quarterback who cannot take advantage of the one offensive weapon that they have (an aging Larry Fitzgerald) would serve them well.
And I'm not trying to retrospectively lambast Alex Smith by any means. Sure, I was one of the people on here who expressed high hopes for him this year, but I reserve my right to be revisionist and change my mind. The fact is that Smith's gaudy passer rating is more an indictment of the veracity of that statistic in evaluating players than it is an indication of how good Smith is.
Smith's more pertinent statistics, such as touchdown passes and third-down conversion rates, have always been dismal, even last year and the beginning of this one. He's never really shown the ability to carry the team to victory over a superior team except one time. That one time happened to be in the playoffs last year against the Saints, and the revisionist fans and pundits seem to forget that that game was a complete aberration from his normal performances and not indicative at all of what he brings to the table.
The following game against the New York Giants was indicative of Smith's overall talent. He didn't make any boneheaded mistakes, but when the time came for someone, anyone, to make a play that would have won the game, Smith was beyond incapable of making one. The truth is that the famous pass to Vernon Davis that won the game against the Saints was the result of New Orleans' totally ignorant insistence on covering Davis with a single safety, despite the fact that he torched them in that coverage the entire game. So don't sell me the hooker with the heart of gold.
Alex Smith doesn't scare any defensive coordinators around the NFL at all. In fact, quite the contrary. His skill set is easy to game-plan against, and the league has shown over and over and over again that if the 49ers' vaunted running game can be contained with Smith at quarterback, San Francisco has very little chance of winning the game.
And guess what? Arizona has no running game whatsoever, and the 49ers coaching staff—despite a few obviously glaring examples this year—game-plan with the best of them.
If Alex Smith suits up for the Cardinals next year against the 49ers, I like the 49ers chances a lot in those two games. So why not help him get over there?
In the words of the immortal Tommy Lasorda, they should send a limousine to his hotel and make sure he gets to the field on time for those games.
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