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Could Alex Smith actually return to the 49ers in 2009???

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Could this man actually be a 49er in 2009? Since Alex Smith first was put on injured reserve, heck since J.T. O'Sullivan first started getting snaps with the #1 offense in training camp, the question has been when, not if, Alex Smith would end up somewhere else in 2009.

At the time, the thinking was, he's scheduled to make a ton of money in 2009 and 2010 so clearly he'd have to renegotiate to a significantly lower salary. Then there's the problems he's had with the team and with Mike Nolan in particular. During all this time, people have posted polls about what the 49ers would do going forward at QB ranging from going after Daunte Culpepper to the most recent FanPost about Byron Leftwich.

However, is it possible the situation has changed enough that Alex Smith might come back for 2009? Smith had surgery on his throwing shoulder last week to remove a small piece of bone that broke during the preseason. In addressing the issue yesterday, Matt Barrows discussed the possibility of Smith returning in 2009:

Smith is scheduled to earn just under $10 million in base salary next season and GM Scot McCloughan said in September that that's too big a price tag for a back-up quarterback. Things have changed since then, however. For one, Mike Nolan - with whom Smith clashed last season - is no longer the head coach. His presence in 2009 certainly would have sent Smith seeking another team next season.

Second, the player who beat out Smith for the starting job, J.T. O'Sullivan, has been demoted. O'Sullivan was the favorite of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, whose high-risk, high-reward offense doesn't seem as appealing as it did in early September. With Shaun Hill at quarterback, the 49ers are turning to a more measured approach on offense during the second half of the season.

As was mentioned earlier in the season, Smith asked to stick around the facility and keep doing the "classroom work" with the QBs. While he doesn't participate on the practice field or travel with the team, he's attended the home games and fully participated in team meetings.

On the one hand, skeptics (and some Smith-haters) would argue that doing this shows future teams that he's committed to the team concept and always looking to improve himself as a quarterback. On the other hand, a lot of players placed on IR will return home to rehab and do their own thing on their own schedule. So the argument could go both ways.

I do believe that the 49ers need to draft a QB this year because to say Alex Smith or Shaun Hill is the QB of the long term just doesn't hold a lot of water with me. I do believe Hill is a short-term viable option to transition to the new young QB. Alex Smith, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about. Assuming Smith actually wanted to return to the 49ers next year, is it really the best option for all parties involved?

One problem with this sort of analysis is that there are a whole lot of variables involved. The two biggest, aside from the players, would be who is the head coach and who is the offensive coordinator. Whether the team sticks with Singletary or goes with another offensive minded coach would affect the decision. If the team went with an offensive minded coach, maybe Martz's ego can't handle that (or handle numerous other problems) and he hits the road.

There are probably too many questions to accurately answer whether Alex Smith will be back in 2009, but on a basic black and white yes/no type of question, what do you think? I know that I never expected to be discussing this when he first went on IR, but it remains a very real possibility I think.