If the 49ers do believe that Smith is capable of improving and succeeding in the playoffs, then they should not pursue a quarterback in the offseason.
But if they don't believe that the Smith can improve or succeed in the playoffs, they can look for one through the draft, free agency or trade market.
This is one of the deeper quarterback draft classes in recent memory, with Andrew Luck, Landry Jones, Robert Griffin III and Matt Barkley.
However, if the 49ers finish the season with one of the top records in the NFL, none of these quarterbacks will be available to them at the position they would be drafting.
Andrew Luck, whom scouts are declaring the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning, is expected to go first overall. Matt Barkley and Landry Jones are expected to go in the top 10.
Earlier in the season, Robert Griffin III was expected to be taken in the later rounds. However, his stock has been soaring because of the year he has been having—just look up his 34-yard winning touchdown pass against top-ranked Oklahoma. The success that Cam Newton has been having in the NFL will only increase his stock.
There is always the option of trading up.
Many of the teams that are picking in the top 10 have already invested in the quarterback position, such as the Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers. They will be listening to offers from teams that are in desperate need of a quarterback.
However, trading up into the top 10 will cost the 49ers at least two first-round draft picks. Those first-round draft picks can be spent on improving other positions, such as the offensive line or secondary.
And trading up has often yielded negative results—such as when the Atlanta Falcons traded two first-round draft picks as well as other draft picks for Julio Jones. This shortage of draft picks left the Falcons thin in roster depth, and as a result, the Falcons have regressed from last season.
Now, before considering the 49ers' options in the trade market, you have to remember that this is the NFL, and trades rarely happen.
There is also the fact that to acquire a quarterback, a team has to give up a king's ransom (such as when the Chicago Bears parted with two first-round draft picks for Jay Cutler, or when the Arizona Cardinals parted with a second-round draft pick and their starting cornerback for Kevin Kolb, who was far from proven and only had 19 career starts under his belt).
One possible option is Peyton Manning.
Before you call me crazy, Manning's stock has never been lower. He still has not fully recovered from the nerve damage in his neck, and it looks like he only has three or four good years left.
No matter how many good years he has left, though, it isn't enough to carry an 0-11 team. Manning and the few good years he has left deserves to play for a Super Bowl contender. And with their 0-11 record, it appears the Colts will be picking first overall.
Picking first overall means the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck as well as the opportunity to succeed Manning with another potential Manning.
Now it's time to come back down to Earth. Even if the Colts draft Andrew Luck, it is doubtful that they will trade Peyton Manning.
Bill Polian is loyal to Manning, as he was responsible for drafting him 14 years ago. And Polian has said that he is open to keeping Manning on the team if he decides to draft Luck, which he can afford to do now with rookies making a lot less under the new bargaining agreement.
If the Colts are even willing to trade Manning, they would ask for a lot in return. If Cutler went for two first-round draft picks, imagine what a four-time MVP would go for.
There is also the question of how much Manning would contribute to the 49ers offense. As mentioned in the previous slides, the 49ers offense does not emphasize the passing game. Mannings' abilities would not be maximized in such an offense.
Manning would also have to learn a new offense for the first time in his NFL career. Lastly, we don't know if that neck injury will ever go away. And even if he fully recovers, Manning has shown to have trouble shaking off the rust, such as in the beginning of the 2008 season.
Moving on to free agency, the top quarterback available would be Jason Campbell.
But why replace Smith with another game manager? Like the 49ers offense, the Raiders offense depends on the running game, with Jason Campbell being asked to convert the occasional third down and not turn the ball over.
A more sensible signing would be Josh Johnson. Josh Johnson was successful under Harbaugh at San Diego, and Harbaugh loves his scrambling quarterbacks. But Josh Johnson isn't an upgrade over Smith and would most likely be brought in only as a veteran quarterback to back up Smith.
Even if Smith does not show improvement or struggles in the playoffs, the 49ers will be most likely better off bringing him back. The timing just isn't right for the 49ers to look for a quarterback through the draft, free agency or the trade market.
There is also the possibility of giving Kaepernick the reins, which brings us to our next slide.