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Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Around the NFC West: 49ers' QB loyalty

By Mike Sando

Finishing with a 13-3 record will not equate to lifetime job security for the San Francisco 49ers' current players. The team will try to upgrade at various spots during the offseason, as usual.

The smart money says San Francisco will re-sign quarterack Alex Smith and install him as the starter while continuing to develop 2011 second-round choice Colin Kaepernick. But what if the team had an opportunity to find a quarterback with far better credentials than Smith? Would the team bypass that opportunity for the sake of continuity?

Matt Maiocco of says making a run at Peyton Manning would not make sense for the 49ers. Maiocco: "Peyton Manning's future is uncertain with the Indianapolis Colts, who are expected to select quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. But don't look for Manning, who turns 36 in March and missed this season with a neck injury, to have any chance of ending up with the 49ers." Noted: I tend to agree and question whether Manning has much of a future given his age and injury status. But I also would not take Harbaugh's public support for any player as an unconditional commitment to staying the course. Opportunities arise unexpectedly and teams, like players, must act in their best interests.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says Smith and running back Frank Gore each played 16 games in a season for the first time since 2006. Knapp: "The Rams didn’t see much of Gore on Sunday; he ran the ball only seven times. Likewise, his teammates didn’t see him taken off the turf like Rashard Mendenhall, whose eighth carry in the Steelers’ finale snapped a knee ligament and knocked him out of the postseason. ... Smith's health may owe itself to good luck more than deft management, but he has talked several times about knowing when to take a sack rather than force things." Noted: I recall thinking during camp that Smith appeared stronger in his upper body, especially his arms.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need to make a strong play for Jeff Fisher as their next head coach. He says the job should be appealing. Burwell: "Stan Kroenke is the sort of pro sports owner that every head coach ought to dream of. No tantrums. Deep pockets. He's an extremely wealthy businessman who loves owning pro sports franchises and seems to know how to get the people he hires to win games for him. The way he built winners in the NBA and NHL is the way he hopes to build one at Rams Park: give his coach and GM whatever they say they need, then get out of the way and let them go to work."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers Rams thoughts during his weekly chat.

Darren Urban of takes a player-by-player look at the Cardinals' roster heading into the offseason. Two former Philadelphia Eagles, Kevin Kolb and Stewart Bradley, face critical seasons in 2012.

Also from Urban: thoughts on Calais Campbell's contract situation. Urban: "I have no idea if anything is close. I know they’ve been talking, I haven’t heard anyone be pessimistic and Ken Whisenhunt himself said he didn’t want to talk about it Monday because he didn’t want to jinx anything -- and could that be a hint, since you don't worry about jinxing something that won’t happen, right? Either way, Campbell will be back because they will franchise him if they must."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic expects quarterback competition between Kolb and John Skelton in training camp. Bickley: "Cardinals fans are becoming emotionally vested in John Skelton. His bad throws are maddening. His victories are always gritty and rarely pretty. But he fights and he wins, and on Sunday, after fainting in pregame preparations, he left the field with an oozing sense of conquest. He was pumping his fist and acknowledging the fans. It was like he owned the place. After winning 6 of 8 games, Skelton's voice has grown, too. He speaks like a starting quarterback, not a designated driver dangling a set of keys. He has newfound credibility with the guys in the locker room, and there is no longer a clear hierarchy at quarterback in Arizona."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks appear ready to pursue a quarterback in the 2012 draft. Coach Pete Carroll: "My opinion in the last few years has changed on what the quarterbacks can do coming out of college. I would have told you in years past, as an NFL coach, that young guys can't do it and there were only a couple that ever did, and that wasn’t enough to make that an expectation that you could count on. But I think that's totally shifted. I don’t think that's the case anymore."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks expect receiver Sidney Rice to return from shoulder surgery in 3-4 months.

Art Thiel of Sport Press Northwest says Carroll's support for Tarvaris Jackson is ultimately unconvincing. Thiel: "I walked out of the VMAC training facility thinking of Jackson like the old high school maxim that politely disses the plain girl by saying she has a great personality."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says former 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, now a Seahawks assistant, is leaving to join Jim Mora's staff at UCLA. Another Seahawks assistant, Luke Butkus, is also leaving.