Three years ago, people would have read that headline and said "No way". Now, things are different.
Alex Smith, the former Utah Utes quarterback, has taken a while to get his legs in the NFL. Throughout the numerous struggling seasons that resulted in average and below .500 records, Smith has come through the other side a better man.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. Well, this is one of those stories.
Stats wise, Smith wasn't living up to expectations. Taken as the first overall pick in the 2005 draft and signed to a $49.5 million contract, Smith's football skills vanished almost as quickly as he received his first paycheck.
In his rookie season with the 49ers, Smith threw 165 passes, but only completed 84 of them. One touchdown on the season capped off a year that 49er fans would like to erase from the history books.
Just like many rookies in the NFL, Smith struggled in his first year. That is obviously understandable. Look at Matt Stafford or Mark Sanchez—their numbers aren't exactly great, but it's all about getting practice and confidence building, right?
That statement wouldn't prove more true than in the 2006 season, when Smith's stats sky-rocketed and won him the starting position for the 2007 season.
257 completions on the year, along with 16 touchdowns and 2890 yards, were the more realistic numbers that a first round pick should be producing.
The next few years varied. In 2007, he fell back into his 2006 slump and only played seven games. 2008 marked the year of injury, and 2009 was an average year, but a better one than expected.
The 49ers finished this season 8-8. It was a better year than the 49ers expected to have, but it wasn't what they had dreamed of heading into the regular season.
Many people had San Francisco down as their sleeper team of 2009. I know I did. With players like Frank Gore and Patrick Willis, you'd be stupid to bet against them.
Overall, Mike Singletary seemed please with San Francisco's season. At least they finished with a winning record, and at least they avoided injury.
As for the future, well, it lies in the hands of the players right now. Smith is no doubt the starter for the team, and if the coaching staff think they can mix and match him with Shaun Hill, then they are only doing themselves more trouble than favors.
Frank Gore is still going strong, and is the true team leader of a team that he has seen the highs and lows of.
Patrick Willis is capping off a more than impressive year. Leading the NFL in 2009 with 147 tackles, four sacks, and three forced fumbles, Willis may be the sole reason why the 49ers defense held up in some close games this season.
The future is looking more than bright for the 49ers at this stage. They may not be Super Bowl caliber yet, but with the weak division that they are in, and the Arizona Cardinals not being as dominant as they once were, they may just take the NFC West next year.