In a lockout offseason when NFL transactions are prohibited, Alex Smith’s declaration Thursday that he has decided to re-sign with the 49ers is news because it’s, well, news. Here are our thoughts on the match.
Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick, will always be compared to Aaron Rodgers, the other top quarterback in the 2005 draft. Of course, Smith can’t come close to measuring up in such a comparison, but it’s not all his fault. Smith has been through countless offensive systems under head coaches Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, and now Jim Harbaugh, with a different offensive coordinator in every season of his pro career, including the upcoming 2011 campaign. That lack of stability has made development no easy task. But he has been a league-average quarterback at best, and he lost the starting job to Troy Smith at points last year. But Smith will once again be a 49er, most likely on a one-year deal.
It’s a stopgap solution both for player and team. For Smith, the 49ers offer just about his best chance to start in 2011. Had he switched teams, it would have likely been as a backup, given the lockout and the lack of time to prepare and learn a new system. In San Francisco, he’ll enter camp as the favorite to start, at least until rookie Colin Kaepernick is ready. Since Kaepernick is viewed as a developmental prospect, that opens the door for Smith to revitalize his career and make the 49ers or someone else eager to start him in 2012. Plus, Smith will get to learn from Harbaugh, who has a reputation as a QB guru from his college days. If Harbaugh can help Smith unlock his still-present potential, it’s a win-win.
For the 49ers, signing Smith to a one-year contract (likely worth several million dollars) makes the best of a bad situation. Smith got to sit down with Harbaugh on the day when the lockout was briefly lifted in April, so he got the 49ers playbook and some pointers. Smith is actually running the 49ers’ players-only workouts, which speaks to his comfort with Harbaugh’s system. If the lockout were not in place, the 49ers might have looked for an alternate stopgap, because Smith has been disappointing and the last thing the fanbase wants is to see him under center again. But the lockout has forced teams into Plans B, C, G, and X. At least the 49ers and their fans can point to Kaepernick as a potential long-term answer – because Smith can no longer be considered a solution for anything more than the short term.