Leading up to the draft, it seems as though every other day some type of new mock draft gets posted on this site. How many times do we need to see the same possible players analyzed? Is it Peterson, Gabbert, Miller, Quinn, Prince...and so on. Who's the player the 49ers absolutely need this year?
Well, allow me to elaborate on the one player that the 49ers definitely do not need for the 2011 season.
You've guessed it: Nate Clements.
Just joking. Actually, I'd love to seem him go too, but the guy I'm talking about is the not-so-talented Mr. Smith.
With the shortened off-season, perceived "lack of talent" in this year's QB class, and the arrival of the 49er's QB guru, Smith apologists...I mean, uh, fans are clamoring for just one more year for him to wear the 49ers Jersey.
Funny: after the 49ers' 0-5 start and another missed post season, you'd think there was no way that Smith would be back.
Of course, most people will caveat their argument for Smith's return with the standard, "Well, yeah, I think he sucks, but we don't have a better option right now." My cynical nature tends to read between the lines and interprets that as another lame excuse to bring Smith back; all under the veil of the "we have no better option" line.
A couple of weeks ago, news came out about Jim Harbaugh playing catch with Smith and planting seeds of hope of an Alex Smith return with the 49ers. We haven't heard a lot of news on the subject since, but those reports were enough to get the Smith controversy going again.
Still, I think the likelihood of Smith returning is slim. And although Harbaugh has publicly praised Smith, he hasn't quite said anything that would shock people if he, in fact, decided to part ways with the perennial losing QB.
Here are some factors that the transparent "but he's probably our best option" argument do not take into account when seeing if Smith will return to the 49ers.
This was reported by the Press Democrat on 20 Feb 2011: “'I'm not going to hide my feelings,' Harbaugh said. 'I like Alex Smith. I like him as a football player, as a person and he'll make the best decision for him. Some people say Alex Smith needs a fresh start — needs a new place to be or whatever. I say, ‘Let that place be here.'”
That does sound pretty convincing.
But this quote was followed by a few weeks of silence on the issue due to the lockout. Here was an article posted after the owner's meetings on 23 Mar 2011- over a month later:
"'That was reported,' Harbaugh said of the Smith meeting as the meetings wrapped up Tuesday in New Orleans. 'It was 'reported' that I did that. But I had as many chats with [running back] Frank [Gore] as I did Alex. The philosophy was always to get the best quarterbacks on our team, keep the best ones and then all the other avenues that you have — draft, free agency, trade. There are a couple of those options that we haven't been able to use.'
Does that sound like an overwhelming endorsement for Alex Smith- or Harbaugh leaning towards the our-options-are-limited-so-we'll-settle-for-Smith bail out? At the very least, Harabugh's tone changed in regards to Smith being on the 49ers.
Yet, when fans discuss the possibility of Smith returning, they're quick to reference Harbaugh in February while omitting what Harbaugh said in March.
Why is Smith the best option instead of some other middle-of-the-road veteran (A status that Smith has not even reached)?
Yeah, Smith may be familiar with the players of the offense, but the excuse that people love to asterisk Smith's lack of play will be even more of a factor this year:
New system, new coach, new o-coordinator, new QB coach...and even less time time than any other season to learn it all.
What has Smith done in the past to enable people think that he would do better under those circumstances that a vet like Hasselbeck or McNabb?
I think everyone can agree on one thing: the 49ers are going to draft a QB this year. 2nd round, 3rd round- maybe even first round.
If Smith resigns, get ready for another will-he or won't-he-start QB battle in what little off season there is.
Additionally, if Smith does get the starting nod over a 2nd or 3rd round rookie, the young kid won't be able to have a lot of "development time"; the moment Smith throws an incomplete pass, the rookie better have hoped that a game or two was enough time to get NFL ready because he'll probably get thrown into the starting spot earlier than anticipated.
Bottom line, any other "bridge the gap" veteran would have a much longer leash on him than Smith would. So why bother with bringing back Smith when you know that he has virtually no room for mistakes before the media and fans start calling for his replacement?
If Harbaugh really does want to develop a young QB, Smith is not the guy to start ahead of him.
Smith vs. O'Sullivan, Smith vs. Hill and the new Smith vs. Rookie. Ask yourself if you- or the 49ers leadership and players- really have the stomach for a third episode of "Smith in search for a starting QB Spot".
Harbaugh is a competitor. Cliche', yeah, but that doesn't make it not true. There is no way Harbaugh is going into his first season as a head coach with the attitude of, "Well, there's been a lot of trouble this off-season, there's no stand-out QB in the draft this year...so I guess I'll just stick with Smith and chalk this season up as a loss."
Will the NFC West be as weak as it was last year? Maybe- but I don't think so.
Harbaugh is going to try his best to win in 2011, and even if he does think there's something worth saving with Smith, Smith is not a winner.
Harbaugh is going to want to draft and develop "his guy"- and he won't be able to focus on that if Smtih is still hanging around the locker room.
This was alluded to before, but I think this is one thing that people tend to forget when thinking about what Smith still playing for the 49ers means.
Eric Davis summed it up pretty well on csnbayarea.com: "'Is Alex capable of coming out and having good games? Sure. But with all the baggage, after three bad passes or two bad series, the crowd is going to go ballistic.'"
In a vacuum, it sounds like a good plan. Keep Smith for a year and let a young guy develop behind him. But, again, how much time would that really mean? A few games - before fans, the media and maybe even ownership- force him to put the rookie in sooner than planned anyway?
This is where the "no better option" argument gets exploited. This is also where the "development vs. start the rookie day one" doesn't work for Smith either.
If you want to develop a rookie- fine - keeping Smith makes that harder, not easier.
Other than that his seasons were cut short because he couldn't win the starting job, he was injured or he was pulled due to poor play.
Last season he didn't have to compete for the starting job...but he was pulled for both poor play and injury.
Want to develop a young rookie QB for a year or two? Good luck with Smith staying under center for that long.
Smith may be the one thinking about all of the above and come to the conclusion that San Francisco just isn't the place for him anymore.
If I was Smith, as promising as Harbaugh seems, I would want to move on to an organization during a year where the QB market is not that deep.
I would want a fresh start with a new team- one where I have time to be a back-up with no pressure to start right away.
Additionally, Harbaugh isn't the only one who must love Smith.
Trent Baalke and Jed York.
These two, along with Smith, also have to be convinced to give the Smith Experiment another go.
Do you honestly see that happening with the big theme being, "well, he really gives us our best option right now."?
Wait a tick.
That's what got us into this mess in the first place, right? Maybe. That or Smith was never really that good to begin with.
Even since 2005 when Smith came into the NFL, the league has changed dramatically in regards to rookie QB's.
QB's taken high - even the 2nd round - are expected to start, and start fast.
The reality is: Harbaugh may not have a year or two to develop a guy- even if that's what he really wants. Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman...Alex Smith.
4 out of 5 isn't bad is it? And I realize Stafford is kind of a stretch because he's been injured.
Also, Harbaugh and his new guy would be coming to a better 49ers team than Smith was given. Does that suck for Smith? Sure, but it is what it is.
And what this rookie would have is a better offensive line, a better offensive-minded head coach and a few more playmakers on offense.
Okay, I had a bunch of reasons not to keep Smith, but let's face it: isn't it just time to let him go? Really, no matter what you say or how many times you try and say "But Harbaugh can really coach him up!"...hasn't it been enough already?
6 losing seasons and we're still entertaining thoughts of bringing this guy back?
Let's cut ties everyone- it's time.