Let me start by saying I have been an Alex Smith supporter for years, always justifying him to my less optimistic friends as our starter, quick to point out how he has been a victim of circumstance. I believe he will continue to grow and flourish under the tutelage of Harbaugh and Roman and I believe he will prove the naysayers wrong again this year. In March, 2012 I was already envisioning Alex's next steps in becoming our team's leader and where this season would take us. Then the news broke that Harbaalke & Co. had made a certain trip to North Carolina where they were apparently "evaluating" one 4 time MVP, future first ballot HOF quarterback, a man who never met a commercial he didn't like, Mr. Peyton Manning. When the former Indy QB's met in secret it wasn't even revealed until days later the session took place. The tight lipped Harbaugh was not even on the field presumably to avoid the possibility of being visually connected to the most sought after free agent in recent memory.
I won't lie. My mind was running rampant with the thought of #18 slinging passes to #85. Thoughts of audibles and theatrical faux audibles, check downs and balls thrown through the smallest of windows danced in my Super Bowl hungry mind. Were we really going to pull this off? Were we going to virtually punch our tickets back to the NFC Championship game (in my mind that is) and exponentially increase our odds of winning our 6th Super Bowl Ring? Well, let's just say I didn't pull out my Jump to Conclusions Mat quite yet.
Well, with the pre-season match-up this weekend in Denver I have been toying with the thought of what if. What if we had nabbed Peyton. We probably would have kept Mr. Smith as insurance, but what if? Our present and future would both look extremely different. Would it have been for the better though? Would we be in a better position to win NOW?
At first glance one would have to say we (the 49ers) would most definitely put ourselves in position to be better now with Manning. Manning to Moss are you kidding me? LaMichael James out of the backfield in a Darren Sproles like role and the ever evolving Vernon Davis straight dominating in every fashion with Manning's touch on the passes coming his way? Sounds epic doesn't it?
Knowing how competetive Harbaugh is and how sound he and Roman are at evaluating talent to fit their unique gameplans it makes sense to look at Peyton Manning. They are extremely ambitious to win but more importantly they know every aspect of this offense. They know what kind of player they need at every starting and backup position including body types, physical abilities/limitations/strengths and most importantly quarterbacking ability/style. Manning, while being one of the best QB's ever to step on an NFL field could step right into their current scheme and outplay Alex in every aspect of the game right? His superior intellect and skill-set automatically make him the better choice don't they?
Rewind to the New Orleans Saints vs. 49ers in the playoffs last season. Alex was darn near perfect that game. I think of the call they made to have Alex run around the left side which resulted in that epic score with Kyle Williams picking up that block and Staley taking out thelast guy. Can anyone else imagine the statue like Manning making that play? Sure one could say there would be a play with his arm or one of our backs would instead make the big play there. Here is where Harbaugh and Roman really needed a more complete athlete at the helm. Their offense relies on versatility, deception and catching your opponent off-guard. Play action (which Manning is one of the best ever at) is definitely part of the plan but their scheming is based on more than just play action. It is built around being able to play to any weakness the opposition might have. Disguising looks with formations that are never what they seem. It simply cannot be run by a quarterback that can't get out of the pocket when need be.
Looking back we all thought Peyton Manning would be the choice over Alex Smith without a doubt. However, what I am beginning to realize is that Harbaalke & Co. got their guy. They had their guy. It was just too much to not consider "evaluating" a guy that has accomplished the things Manning has. I believe the skill-set, the potential, the determination, the heart, the desire to win and to lead, the dedication and the football IQ Alex Smith showed this staff (and flashed to all of us) last year led them to believe, stay with me here, Alex and not Peyton was a BETTER option for the San Francisco 49ers to win NOW and to continue where they left off last season.
Time will tell how this saga unfolds. Manning might throw for more Touchdowns this year than Smith. He will probably have more yards. When January rolls around though, and we are making a run at the playoffs and another title hopefully, Peyton Manning will be the one watching one Alex Freaking Smith from the sofa. Only then, will we be able to smile knowing that our guy WAS the right choice for the now, and we won't even have to think about "what if."