Courtship of Smith not only curious, but dangerous
Alex Smith has a 49ers playbook. He has good knowledge of the organization, considering he has spent the past six years in it. He has the support of the team’s GM and head coach. What he doesn’t have is a contract, which is why the 49ers should be careful with their curious praise and pursuit of the veteran quarterback. And that, of course, isn’t the only reason they should be a little wary.
Jim Harbaugh has been gushing about Smith and what a great thing it would be for Smith to be with the team in 2011 practically since Harbaugh was hired as the team’s head coach in January.
But Harbaugh really went out of his way after the 49ers were done selecting their 10-player haul in this week’s NFL draft, which included second-rounder Colin Kaepernick, a player the 49ers went out of their way to procure during the annual college lottery, which marks Kaepernick as the quarterback that Harbaugh plans to develop and the team plans to build around as its QB of the future.
Smith also plays quarterback, and not very well if you solely consider his work at the position in six seasons with the 49ers. Smith can bolt the organization as a free agent this year, as many think he should – probably even Smith himself, deep in his heart – yet Harbaugh already is making it sound like Smith is part of the team.
“Alex Smith is a 49er,” Harbaugh declared after the draft ended Saturday. “There’s no olive branch that needs to be extended. He’s going to come back to the team.”
All this after Harbaugh met with Smith for some 40 minutes during the brief lockout interlude Thursday during which players were allowed to roam around the 49ers’ team facility once again after the lockout had forced them to stay away the previous two months.
Harbaugh used this opportunity to give Smith the new 49ers playbook drawn up this offseason by Harbaugh and his coaches. Then, when asked if Smith has agreed to sign a contract – Smith can’t actually do so until the lockout is lifted – Harbaugh replied, “There’s a leap of faith there. There’s a leap of faith.”
The thing is, NFL rules stipulate the 49ers are not allowed to negotiate with Smith, or any other free agent for that matter, during the lockout. And if there was any rule preventing speculation regarding free agents, the 49ers certainly would be breaking them with all their chatter about Smith.
But that’s hardly the real core of the issue here. Harbaugh is talking in real terms that Smith is going to be San Francisco’s starting quarterback next year. That alone is a decision the 49ers should be putting off for a while, particularly with free agency still to come and the possibility of getting a veteran who might be a better option as caretaker of the position until Kaepernick is ready to take over.
Smith’s body of work as San Francisco’s starting quarterback speaks for itself. Do the 49ers really want to go down that road again?
Regarding the team’s competition at quarterback this year, Harbaugh already is practically declaring Smith as his starter.
“Alex is going to have the head start,” Harbaugh said. “He’s played in the National Football League and he’s won games in the National Football League.”
Yeah, Smith has won games in the NFL, all right. Nineteen of them, in fact. He’s 19-31 as a NFL starter.
Sure – like a lot of NFL teams – the 49ers are in a unique and uncertain position right now, with the lockout depriving them of the usual March free agency period they could have used to find the viable veteran quarterback they most certainly need this year to help them get through Harbaugh’s first season.
But putting so much hope and “faith” in Smith – and particularly expressing it publicly – doesn’t seem like the wisest way to go for a new regime that’s trying to pump up its fan base and, most importantly, become a winner in 2011 for the first time in nine seasons.
“If I’m a betting man, I’m betting on Alex Smith,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh’s a betting man, all right. And he and the organization are taking a big gamble on all this Alex Smith devotion.
And the odds are it won’t pay off.