Why 49ers are publicly lauding Alex Smith

Even Alex Smith's supporters would have to admit, at least on some level, that the quarterback's time with the San Francisco 49ers might have run its course.

The team obviously needs to consider other options at the position.

New coach Jim Harbaugh knows this, which is why his recent comments supporting Smith require some explanation.

"I’ve been studying Alex Smith and watching him and I believe that Alex Smith can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said during a radio interview. "I’m excited to work with him, get to know him."

Harbaugh is doing exactly what he should be doing: keeping open all options without committing to any one option prematurely. It's no surprise if Smith appeals to Harbaugh in some ways.

There's also no reason the 49ers should write off Smith before they have lined up superior alternatives.

Analysts consider the 2011 draft relatively weak at quarterback. Teams cannot acquire quarterbacks by trade without a new collective bargaining agreement. Free agency also hinges on a labor agreement. Smith was the 49ers' starter in 2010, making him the best quarterback on the roster by the clearest definition.