SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 and Mike Iupati #77 of the San Francisco 49ers prepare for the snap during the game agains the Pittsburgh Steelers at Candlestick Park on December 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
If the quarterback-head coach bromance between Alex Smith and Jim Harbaugh wasn't enough in September, things may have just gotten hot and heavy in December with the 49ers at 11-3, competing for a first round bye in the playoffs. After this most recent 49er victory engineered by late game heroics by Smith, coach Harbaugh gave a strong endorsement for Smith as the third NFC Pro Bowl quarterback this year -- classed with Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
Rodgers and Brees, who are both having remarkable seasons, are also the leaders of their respective teams. And much like Smith, they have posted winning records; the top three in the NFC. However, it is no mystery that Smith is a long shot for the Pro Bowl and is likely trailing Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning; all of which have not played as clean and as successful as Smith. But I digress---
What struck me about Harbaugh saying this, is that it is indeed late in the season and Smith is still under the terms of a one-year contract. What struck me even more was when I began to think about my offseason preference regarding the QB situation, I don't really know where I stand anymore.
On the one hand, we have Alex Smith who until now has been a seven-year-long headache. And on the the other, there is a draft and free agency approaching that could include the likes of Peyton Manning. Either way, there are a lot of questions and concerns that come with this decision.
In The Event of Retaining Alex Smith
There are a lot of positives that come with keeping Smith. First of all, he can grow in this offense because he's shown he can do it on a weekly basis. If Smith has offseason's to work with Harbaugh and this offensive staff, he could begin putting up 250-300 yard games more regularly. We would retain a passer who has had a rating in the low to high 90's for most of this season and a winning record.
We know Smith is mentally tough and can win on the road. We know he is intelligent and won't turn the ball over. We know that he plays for 60 minutes and will put it on the line for his teammates. The 49ers would likely get great value at a discount price because he doesn't throw for 400-yards a game like Brees and Rodgers. And most of all, his teammates believe in him and don't quit on him.
Concerns: performance decline after new contract, someone out there can better execute the offense, stops developing, length of contract-Kaepernick status
In The Event of Letting Alex Smith Walk
What kind of message does that send to the team? Will he want to come back or would he like to test the market in a quarterback-needy league? Is Peyton Manning going to be a free agent? Where is Colin Kaepernick at?
The odds are, Smith will be re-signed. After examining the facts and playing out possible scenarios, they mostly lead to bromance > business. If San Francisco does let him walk, I can't see Manning wanting to play for a hands on system that is not his own -- there is ego involved with him. With that in mind, is there anything better out there than Smith right now? Or could it work with Manning?
The draft has a lot of potential first year passers in Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, RG3 and Ryan Tannenhill. But the 49ers aren't in draft position or need to pursue one; more pressing needs could be addressed with the draft. But then again, a great quarterback could put San Francisco over the top. The consensus seems to be that the defense isn't too shabby and an elite passer could turn the 49ers from a powerhouse to a dynasty.
If negotiations with Smith dissolve for whatever reason, the question becomes would Harbaugh and Trent Baalke be bold enough to trade up to secure one of the four college passers listed above. All signs point to Andrew Luck, which could become a possibility if Manning was healthy, able to live up to his contract and the Colts were looking to trade out of the #1 spot. Mind you, it would be tough for them to trade up given the success this year.
The Rams are also in contention for the #1 overall pick, which is interesting because they wouldn't necessarily be looking at a quarterback with their investment in Sam Bradford. Baalke can be aggressive on draft day, Niners fans have seen it. Though I doubt the Rams would want to conduct fair business with the 49ers, especially if it came to providing them with their quarterback of the future.
Concerns: rookie quarterback a bust, dry QB free agency, Manning unavailable, team morale regarding Smith departure, new QB fitting system
These are just some thoughts I've been kicking around and decided to share, and hopefully get some feedback as to what Niners Nation out there thinks. And like I said, I don't know where I stand. All I know is, at the end of the day, In Harbaugh I Trust.
Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80