A Farewell to Alex Smith as a Member of the San Francisco 49ers

Joseph AkeleyAnalyst IMarch 12, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 29:  Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers answers questions from the media during Super Bowl XLVII Media Day ahead of Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 29, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The San Francisco 49ers will take on the Baltimore Ravens on February 3, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It's official. The Alex Smith era has come to a close in San Francisco.

The Kansas City Chiefs and 49ers completed a trade on Tuesday that sent two draft picks to San Francisco for the former No. 1 pick of the 2005 NFL draft, according to the Niners' official website.

49ers fans must be thrilled at the bounty they received in return for their backup quarterback, which is expected to include the No. 34 pick in the 2013 draft. However, I'm left wishing Smith had one more shot to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

No, I'm not suggesting he would have led San Francisco to its sixth Super Bowl had he been the starting quarterback in the playoffs. Actually, I don't think Smith would have led the 49ers to New Orleans at all.

It's just that, after five seasons of mediocre play (to put it lightly), Smith had finally turned a corner, and I wanted him to have one more chance as a 49er to prove all his doubters wrong.

But Smith lost that chance when he suffered a concussion about halfway through the 2012 season, which turned out to be the best thing that happened to the 49ers. In a perfect storm of fate, Colin Kaepernick annihilated the Chicago Bears while making his first start, and everyone knew deep down that Smith's time was up.

Kaepernick showed he had potential that Smith lacks, and then he blew away everyone's expectations with 263 passing yards, 181 rushing yards and four combined touchdowns to beat Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.

As 49ers fans celebrated the beginning of a new quarterback era, Smith stayed out of the way the best he could. He answered questions without causing a media stir.

He did what was best for the 49ers.

It wasn't too long ago that Smith, as an unrestricted free agent, chose to work with more than a couple dozen 49ers during the 2011 NFL lockout. After being booed several times by 49ers fans during the 2010 regular season, Smith had every reason to go elsewhere.

That might be an understatement. He was the laughingstock of the Bay Area sports landscape, and most people in his position would've bolted to a new town, even if that meant an assured backup role.

But he was the best option for San Francisco—considering the weak free-agent quarterback pool and severely shortened offseason—and he knew it. So he came back.

He did what was best for the 49ers.

Smith was far from elite in 2011. But he was winning. His conservative-yet-efficient style was the perfect complement to San Francisco's defense and running game, and the 49ers were suddenly Super Bowl contenders with the much-maligned signal-caller. 

In the playoffs, Smith led two go-ahead touchdown drives with less than four minutes left in regulation against the New Orleans Saints. His game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis was the type of throw I thought he lacked. 

He no doubt saw that there were defenders surrounding Davis, yet, without hesitation, he threw the ball to spot it had to be in. 


For as good as Smith was against the Saints in the last two drives, he was equally as bad against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

Blame the lack of receivers, blame the offensive line or even blame the coaching staff if you'd like, but the bottom line was Smith had a mediocre game, and yet it still should've been enough.

Instead, the 49ers lost in overtime, due in large part to two Kyle Williams fumbles on special teams that led directly to the Giants scoring 10 of their 20 points. 

With Smith's struggles against New York fresh in their minds, Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke must have had an honest discussion about improving their quarterback play. 

Who knows for sure whether the 49ers really courted Peyton Manning, but their interest in him was a big enough warning signal that Smith could've signed with the Miami Dolphins, who were reportedly interested in San Francisco's starting quarterback.

Instead, Smith not only re-signed with San Francisco, but his three-year deal was also structured in a way that he could be cut without costing the team much dead money after his first season.

He did what was best for the 49ers.

Ultimately, the Niners hit a home run with Kaepernick in 2012, which forced them to choose between having an $8.5 million backup or finding a trade partner. Naturally, they chose to make a trade.

Wouldn't it be fitting if the second-round pick they acquired from the Chiefs turned into a player that was the difference-maker for the Red and Gold winning a Super Bowl next year?

Maybe that's the way this narrative had to be. Smith was never good enough to win it all as a starter, yet he was the perfect mentor to the starter of the future and just valuable enough to push the 49ers over the top via trade.

Okay, the last part of that sentence is yet to be determined, but who's to say it won't happen?

Here's to Alex Smith, a classy, hardworking man who often deserved better in San Francisco.

Trading him away is bittersweet, but it's what's best for the 49ers.