Alex Smith could find himself throwing passes once again for the Niners in 2011.
Much has been made of the attention the 49ers have placed on quarterbacks in the upcoming draft. The Niner's front office have been present at several Pro Day workouts, and have even held a private workout with Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. It is unlikely though that any QB San Francisco is able to select in this year's draft will be ready to step in week-one and lead the 49er's offense.
After the (forced) mismanagement of the start of Alex Smith's career, Jed York and company likely will want to prevent their next "franchise" quarterback from following a similar career path.
The lack of mention by any member of the 49er staff of David Carr is a pretty clear indication that they do not view him as their starter and mentor to a young quarterback in 2011. Meanwhile, leading up to the lockout, new head coach Jim Harbaugh was quick and consistent with his praise of Alex Smith.
Harbaugh's track record of mentoring and developing quarterbacks in the college ranks has me curious enough to welcome Alex Smith back for one more last chance in 2011-2012. That said, I am not convinced that I would want Smith mentoring our next quarterback.
Alex Smith may be the best option available in terms of stepping right in and running the offense effectively, assuming Harbaugh is not just the next coach to be fooled by Smith's inconsistent and infrequent flashes of adequacy. Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary both once believed in Alex Smith as well, only to see their faith in Smith earn them a quick boot out the door, not quick enough in both cases actually, but I digress.
Which veteran QB should the 49ers pursue for 2011?
If the lockout progresses long enough, it seems likely that Alex Smith will be the most likely quarterback the 49ers pursue to hold the position for at least one year while they develop whoever it is they select in the draft, whether it be Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton or any of the other quarterbacks that figure to go in the first few rounds.
I imagine that re-signing Alex Smith would indicate that his role would simply be to run the Niner's offense and stay out of the way of the real mentoring being provided by Harbaugh himself. Not that I am saying Alex lacks the intelligence to mentor a young QB, but he lacks any true successes in the NFL to point to while showing his predecessor the ropes, so to speak.
Keeping in mind that San Francisco could choose to pursue Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb, or Tennessee's Vince Young, I think they will instead choose to venture into free agency to find their 2011 quarterback. It's definitely not that I see a problem trading for either Kolb or Young, I just don't see the Niners willingly parting with valuable draft picks in 2012 if they truly believe they are drafting their franchise quarterback this season.
So ignoring the trade route, there only really appear to be two QBs potentially on the free agent market that would be suited to step in and both run the Niner's new West Coast Offense and mentor a young QB.
At age 36, Hasselbeck would truly be only a "stop-gap" quarterback on the downside of his career. Hasselbeck has won 10 or more games three times in his career, been to three Pro Bowls and has recorded 20 or more TD passes four times.
He is a good fit for a West Coast Offense, but has also thrown 44 interceptions over the past three seasons while throwing 34 touchdown passes. Hasselbeck's stats could be effected by the fact he has been on poor Seahawk teams that lack the weapons necessary for him to put together an effective season.
Would Matt Hasselbeck fair any better with the 49ers offensive weapons? Obviously has more successes to warrant mentoring a young quarterback, but questions about his diminishing skills remain.
Well, we know McNabb has Vernon Davis' vote to man the position in 2011-2012, but does his play the past two seasons warrant any hope that he would be an upgrade over Alex Smith?
First things first, the Redskins would need to release McNabb in order for him to become a free agent the Niners could pursue. He signed a five-year contract extension last year with Washington before being demoted to their third-string quarterback. The Redskins have said that if he is to return this coming season he will need to accept the role of being a backup quarterback.
McNabb threw 14 touchdown passes last season, compared with 15 interceptions. Just one season earlier with Philadelphia he threw 22 touchdown passes compared with only 10 interceptions.
Would a change of scenery allow McNabb to turn back the clock to his Philadelphia days for the 49ers? I'm not sure, but I'd much rather throw McNabb out in the fire for a year while our rookie QB, whomever that winds up being, learns from the sideline.
Would it be worth surrendering a draft pick to trade for McNabb if he is not released by Washington?
If All Else Fails
The most likely scenario for the 49ers is that they will strongly pursue Alex Smith when the lockout ends and free agency resumes. Depending on how long the lockout lasts, Smith may find no better options available to him than to return to the 49ers if he wishes to remain a starter and not a backup.
It would be nice to see the Niners add another free agent quarterback such as Tavaris Jackson, Marc Bulger, Bruce Gradkowski or Brady Quinn to add competition for Smith, or relegate him to the backup role.