There has been a lot of conversation on what the 49ers need to make themselves into the NFC West division champions. Most of this has been concerning the future of Alex Smith.
Many of the home fans are clamoring for the team to draft a new quarterback. They place the blame for the team's failure to win at Smith's feet.
Not only is this wrong, but in my humble opinion, very misplaced. The failure of the team to win is the fault of ownership and management to properly evaluate the needs of the team.
Alex Smith is a free agent going into the 2011 season, and with collective bargaining agreement far from being done, the 49ers may decide they want to keep Smith in the fold.
Harbaugh has stated he likes Smith and can see him succeeding in San Francisco.
Let's look at five reasons why the 49ers should keep Alex Smith.
First is Alex Smith himself. He's a proven hard worker and is a leader on the field. He is an intelligent quarterback and has made all of the adjustments required of him.
How many other quarterbacks in NFL have had six different offensive coordinators in their first six years in the league? My guess is one, Alex Smith.
Here's a kid who has had to learn a new offense each year. He has made every effort to get the job done and excel as well as he could given the circumstances.
Now we enter his seventh year in the league, and guess what: it's a new head coach, offensive coordinator and another new offense to learn.
No quarterback could be expected to succeed in this environment. In 2005, if Aaron Rodgers had gone to the 49ers and Smith to the Packers, their fates would have been reversed. Rodgers would be called the bust and Smith might be the Super Bowl MVP.
Being a free agent, Smith may opt for a new start given the history of the 49ers front office.
Alex Smith has not had a quality offensive line during his career. The line has been porous and Smith has taken a lot of hits while standing in the pocket.
Then, last year, the 49ers went out and drafted two quality offensive linemen in the first round. By taking Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, the team sent a message that they were committed to upgrading their O-line and protecting the quarterback.
The results were evident as the team moved forward. Last year they scored on their initial drives in several games. This was something that had not been the case in previous years.
With time to throw, Smith was able to utilize his biggest weapons in the passing game, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
To be honest, there isn't a quarterback in the draft this year that can step in and start for an NFL team. This lack of ability was apparent at the combine.
Who would the 49ers draft to replace Smith? There's really no one in the draft that can improve the quarterback position for the team on Day 1 of the 2011 season.
So I don't see the team drafting a QB until the third round at best.
A Quarterback's Coach
Jim Harbaugh is probably the best reason to keep Alex Smith. If anyone understands the quarterback position, it's the new head coach.
Harbaugh played the position for 15 years in the NFL. He played on good teams and bad teams, playing in various offensive schemes.
Drafted in the first round in 1987, Harbaugh was seen as the Bears starting quarterback. Seven years into his career, Harbaugh appeared to be on the outs.
But in 1995, he made his mark in the NFL and was voted the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year as the Colts starting QB.
If anyone can help Alex Smith's confidence and bring out the best in this young man, it's Jim Harbaugh. In the win-now culture of the NFL, Harbaugh will be expected to win the weak NFC West sooner than later.
I believe Harbaugh can make that happen with Smith as his quarterback.
Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke
Trent Baalke is a step up from the previous general manager, Scot McGloughan. The new man in charge has proven he can handle the job.
He was able to keep two of the 49ers' potent young guns by successfully extending the contracts of Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis.
Baalke was instrumental in correctly identifying the needs of the team for the 2010 draft, taking the two big lineman to bolster the offense and having all eight picks make the roster.
This was achieved despite the exit of the previous GM just prior to the draft.
The hirings of Baalke and Harbaugh shows that the Yorks are committed to winning in the NFL and returning San Francisco to the status of an elite team.
Will Alex Smith fit into Baalke's vision for the team? He has proven to be a very shrewd evaluator of talent and doesn't foresee wholesale changes in the 49ers' approach to 2011.
Only time will tell if Smith is with the team, but I believe that with the folks at the top, Smith can succeed in San Francisco if given the chance.