Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Friday, January 21, 2011
Harbaugh and the 49ers' QB question

By Mike Sando

The more Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and I discussed San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, the more we thought keeping Alex Smith could make some sense.

Before I continue, let's take a few minutes to let 49ers fans' blood pressure return to safe levels. I've got the defibrillator ready just in case.

Alex Smith
Alex Smith has 51 TDs and 53 INTs through five seasons in San Francisco.
"If I were a Niners fan," Williamson said, "I would say, 'Are you kidding me?' But it might be a good fit."

The 49ers need to seek fresh talent at quarterback. I know it, you know it, Williamson knows it. Even Alex Smith probably knows it. But in identifying traits Harbaugh might seek in a quarterback -- someone with the smarts to maximize his scheme -- Smith fits the profile enough to consider at least on some level.

"Harbaugh wants the film rat who comes to the line, makes all the checks, gets his team in the right position all the time -- the cerebral guy," Williamson said. "I am not sure who that is. It's easier said than done. But I could see Harbaugh liking Smith."

The organization overall recognizes the need for change. No one is saying Smith should return as the starter. Williamson isn't even sure whether Smith should return at all. In fact, he said he thought the 49ers should seriously consider acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, if available.

The bottom line, though, is that Harbaugh will seek a smart quarterback.

Smith's smarts might not be the right kind. Quarterbacks must be able to make decisions quickly (update: and instinctively). Smith has sometimes struggled to act decisively, in my view. He is not a natural leader in the traditional sense. The baggage he carries after six disappointing seasons might be heavy enough to weigh him down. Change might be best for all.

Rich Gannon was the quarterback for Oakland when Harbaugh was a Raiders assistant. Gannon had smarts, but he also had a fiery side that isn't part of Smith's nature. Harbaugh might decide Smith lacks the natural leadership skills he wants from the position.

It's too early to know for sure. Smith wasn't good enough last season. Kolb didn't stay healthy enough or play well enough in his limited opportunities to hold off Michael Vick. He might have been good enough for the 49ers to win an NFC West in transition, however.

"The 49ers could have had the 15th-best quarterback in the league and won that division," Williamson said. "Kolb is supposedly sharp. We have not see enough to know either way. At least he is a veteran, as opposed to breaking in a rookie."