It’s trendy, and it’s foolish to wax on and on about this corner or that receiver when new 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh doesn't have a competent NFL quarterback under contract. Veteran backup David Carr hasn’t been competent in years.
The NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi, who worked with the 49ers under Bill Walsh, suggested that it might be wise to let Harbaugh sift through potential quarterbacks rather than doing the sifting without knowing what to look for.
“Coach Walsh told me in 1984 that the hardest position to evaluate was the quarterback and it was even harder to coach,” Lombardi has said repeatedly, including in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat recently. “So I think that still holds true today. I think there’s very few people that have expertise at evaluating the quarterback and even fewer that have expertise in coaching the quarterback.”
Harbaugh comes billed as a guy who has that “expertise.”
With plenty of time to kill before the draft and, then, before the ongoing labor dispute is resolved, the 49ers have to focus on finding a starting quarterback. Maybe find two veterans to battle for the top job? While they’re at it, they ought to land a young quarterback to develop for the future.
The field of free agent quarterbacks the 49ers can’t even sign until the labor tussle ends is hardly inspiring. That’s one really good reason that Harbaugh has gone to lengths to make it clear that he’s considering trying to lure Alex Smith back into the fold.
The 49ers have gone through coaches and offensive coordinators at a rate that appeared intended to make certain that Smith had no chance to succeed in San Francisco. Smith hasn’t played very well for very long at any point, but he maintained his sanity playing for Mike Singletary and that says something about a quarterback.
If Harbaugh likes Smith enough to be considering bringing back the last quarterback that 49ers’ fans want back, let's hear him out. Harbaugh knows a great deal more about quarterbacks and the NFL than even a season-ticket holder who listens to Jon Gruden’s evaluations on ESPN after memorizing the top 10 QBs on Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board.
People promoting the notion that 34-year-old Donovan McNabb would be the best option for San Francisco are overlooking a couple of things. First, noted NFL guru Andy Reid sent him packing a year ago then developed both Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick into winners. Second, McNabb was benched, twice, in Washington by Mike Shanahan. Shanahan chose Rex Grossman over McNabb.
How does that make McNabb the answer for Harbaugh and the 49ers?
Which free agent QB would most help the 49ers in 2011?
Folks mentioning Marc Bulger know he's 34, has a strong arm and that he’s absolutely immobile. He is, in many ways, David Carr with more impressive career numbers.
Bulger helps the 49ers only if Harbaugh has to start the season with little preparation and just needs a veteran … in a hurry. Lombardi suggests that Bulger could wind up in San Francisco. He was, after all, a backup in Baltimore for Jim Harbaugh’s head coaching brother John Harbaugh.
The Eagles might part with Kolb, but will want to dig deeply into the 49ers' early-round draft picks in return. Reid liked Kolb enough to hand him the starting job when McNabb was traded. Kolb won't come cheap.
Stanford quarterbacks, even those who were John Elway or Jim Plunkett, are usually pretty well equipped to perform in the NFL. Edwards’ two decent seasons with the Bills can’t be ignored because, well, he was playing for the Bills.
Edwards hasn’t had any better tutoring than Alex Smith and he’s a San Francisco Bay area guy.
Lombardi said the 49ers would be interested in using draft picks to try to acquire Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals. One problem, though … the Bengals say they won’t trade the veteran quarterback and Palmer says he’ll retire before returning to Cincy. The Bengals invariably do the wrong thing, so don’t expect them to trade Palmer if they can just let him walk away.
It’s depressing to have 49ers’ quarterback talk centering around Trent Edwards, Marc Bulger and Alex Smith. Whenever the 2011 season begins, the 49ers still need a veteran quarterback, though.
Alex Smith is more mobile than the others and has been woefully under-coached on a team that now has a gifted quarterback coach running the show.
So, don’t be surprised if the 2011 season begins with, um, you-know-who at quarterback in San Francisco.
(Ted Sillanpaa can be reached at email@example.com)