Alex Smith dropped the ball.
No, this is not a reference to one of his twenty-eight fumbles over the past six years as the Niners' signal caller. Instead, the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft seemed to botch a chance at potentially being a centerpiece at what has already become one of the highly anticipated story lines of the 2011 season: the beginning of the Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco.
Smith has struggled over the past five years in San Francisco, compiling a QB rating of 72.1 with a completion percentage of 57 percent, slightly below the league average. Is he completely to blame, however?
Over his five years in the Bay area, Smith played under two head coaches (Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary), six offensive coordinators, and eleven different understudies at the starting job, which seemed to always pose a threat to Smith's starting job due to his inconsistency.
His comments towards his team, which has been overly patient with him during his up and down tenure, painted a clear picture of his attitude towards signing another contact with the club.
Immediately following the season finale against Arizona, one which Smith (capturing the starting job once again from former backup Troy Smith) was exceptionally sharp: throwing 15-21 for 208 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, Smith seemed willing to be a part of the continuing rebuilding project in San Francisco. When being asked of his future as niner, he responded
"That's something that, no question, I'm not ruling out," he said. "I just have to look at it and make the best decision. Sit down with the people around me and do what I think is best."
Soon after the team meeting and freedom to escape Candlestick Park, his attitude towards the media, and the franchise which has been more faithful than necessary, changed. As he was approached by a different member of the media afterwards about his future with the club, Smith's response was quite the contrary
"Are you being serious?" Smith said. "Uh ... no".
Is it surprising that Smith is bitter towards the franchise that drafted him with the top pick in 2005, yet has bombarded him with more inconsistencies than most NFL QB's are faced with over their entire careers?
Not one bit.
It is surprising, however, that Smith's attitude shifted so suddenly, and so soon, and especially before he took the time to see what direction the franchise was destined in during the offseason.
Had Smith taken this precious time, he could have been able to quite possibly get his career back on track with the franchise that aimed to make him the next big superstar in 2005.
He could have been a crucial part of the Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers.
As the Cardinal's coach, Harbaugh was able to turn the Stanford program into near contenders for the national title in 2010, and was able to develop QB Andrew Luck into the sure No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, had Luck not decided to return for his junior season and earn his degree.
The turnaround is set to begin in San Francisco, regardless of who is behind center for this famed franchise. The Niners are used to winning, and Harbaugh is already assembling his staff to do so, one which looks like it will consist of the same members which helped Harbaugh lead Stanford this past season.
Alex Smith is now going to be searching for a new opportunity, and a new beginning, one that will not be found in San Francisco. Witnessing the turnaround that Harbaugh led Stanford to this past campaign, it truly makes one wonder what could have been in the Bay area had Smiths' patience and attitude turned sour towards the franchise that aimed to make him the next elite signal caller for the Niners.