The numbers Branch presents are interesting. The chart below reproduces them. The stats compare Harbaugh's first seven NFL seasons with Smith's first six seasons. Harbaugh played for better teams in Chicago under Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt. His 35-30 starting record reflects as much. But the raw stats are remarkably similar. Smith has played in an era friendlier to the passing game.
Harbaugh has nothing to lose from bringing back Smith for one season while grooming rookie Colin Kaepernick. If Smith fails to impress, what's new? If Smith impresses, Harbaugh has succeeded in the short term without compromising long-term plans. Either way, Harbaugh is just getting started. He has a five-year contract and everyone knows this is a transition season, particularly with the lockout.
Smith still generates groans from a large contingent of 49ers fans, including Patrick, who pointed out Branch's piece to me on Facebook. I get it, but it's helpful to grasp the difference between signing Smith for one season and committing to him. One year does not constitute a commitment. It constitutes a low-risk bet during a lockout that is complicating efforts to seek viable alternatives.
Now, on to the chart. Harbaugh put up much better numbers after leaving the Bears, earning Pro Bowl honors one season. He had 79 touchdown passes with 61 interceptions with Indianapolis, Baltimore and San Diego. But his starting record after leaving Chicago was only 31-44. Quarterbacks are hugely important, but football is still a team sport.