49ers playing a dangerous game at quarterback

Mar 18, 2012 at 3:41 PM16

Quarterback Alex Smith is upset with the San Francisco 49ers, and he has every right to be. The 49ers, more so than Denver Broncos or Tennessee Titans, are playing a very dangerous game at the quarterback position in their chase of free-agent Peyton Manning. It is a game that, if they are not careful, could push the franchise back a few years.

No matter what some fans still think of him, Smith was the 49ers' guy. He had the best season of his career in 2011, completing over 60% of his passes for 3,639 yards, 22 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions while leading the team to their first NFC Championship game since 1997. Harbaugh called Smith an "elite quarterback" during the regular season and they seemed to share a bond that made everyone certain Smith would return in 2012. Then the Indianapolis Colts released Peyton Manning -- and everything changed.

On Monday, Smith said he was happy with the three-year, $24 million contract that the team and extended to him and there were only a few details to iron out. On Tuesday, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman traveled to North Carolina and held a secret workout with Manning. They were so impressed that they sent team doctors on Wednesday to give Manning a physical exam. All of this while Smith waited for his agent, Tom Condon, who just so happens to also represent Peyton Manning's, to "iron out" the details of his contract with the 49ers.

Obviously there is a conflict of interest in having your agent be the same person that is representing the guy that may eventually replace you and is holding up your own contract. On Sunday, it was revealed that Smith considered firing Condon. He also traveled to Miami to visit with the Dolphins, where he would likely have to compete for the starting job. He also had a scheduled visit with the Seattle Seahawks, but they signed Matt Flynn. Tired of waiting for the Manning situation to resolve itself, and obviously scorned by the 49ers, Smith has started to move on.

Unlike Denver and Tennessee, San Francisco does not have another quarterback with starting experience under contract. While there may be some resentment by Tim Tebow in Denver or Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee, those two are under contract with their clubs, making the relationship a little easier to repair. San Francisco has Colin Kaepernick, who was a rookie last season and did not display much to be hopeful for when he actually did take some snaps.

Best case scenario

Peyton Manning chooses the San Francisco 49ers and Smith, unable to find another team where he can compete, returns as Manning's backup. If Manning gets hurt or is unable to play, the team has at least as good a foundation as last year. However, unless Smith is willing to take a serious pay cut from the offer that he already had on the table or is unable to find another team to play for, this scenario is unlikely.

Great scenario

Manning chooses the 49ers and Kaepernick is his backup, allowing the young quarterback to learn from one of the best in the league. Of course, if Manning gets hurt or is unable to play, the team is in a far worse situation than last year.

Solid scenario

Manning chooses to go to Denver or Tennessee and Smith agrees to return to the 49ers. Everything is as it was last season. Of course, the 49ers might have to up the ante on the contract offer to Smith and do some major relationship repairing.

Worst case scenario

Manning chooses to go to Denver or Tennessee and Smith, upset with how he was treated, signs elsewhere, even if it means competing for the starting job. What if Miami offers him a contract before Manning makes his decision? That would leave the 49ers with Kaepernick penciled in as their starting quarterback and the team would be left scrambling to figure out what to do next. Perhaps they would go after Hasselbeck as a short-term solution if he was released as a result of the Tennessee getting Manning. Perhaps they would need to make a trade.

The 49ers know what they have in Smith. They do not yet know what they have in Kaepernick. Even if he is not at 100%, Manning is better than either. So playing this game could have very dangerous repercussions for San Francisco.

Manning is expected to make his decision on Monday or Tuesday -- possibly later. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

* Alex Smith's stats include playoffs
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Josh C. (Cen Cal)
    I think ANY NFL team with the slightest chance of getting Peyton Manning would be completely IGNORANT not to pursue him, other than New England, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and MAYBE Philadelphia. He's probably the most intelligent football minds to ever play the game, and even Steve Young has stated that, Peyton is probably the single most valuable player of any sport. That was made clearly evident with Chernobyl-like meltdown Indianapolis had last season. So it was a gamble worth taking. But there would have been a A LOT of unknowns if Manning would have signed with SF. For 14 seasons, 228 games to be precise, Peyton called every play of every game at the line of scrimmage. How would that have fit in with our new head coach and OC? But having read a few of the submitted comments from others, and must state first and foremost.....GET OFF OF ALEX SMITH's BACK!!! The guy really HADN'T had a REAL opportunity to succeed until last year. He finally had a head coach and ONE offensive coordinator who didn't have their heads so far up their rears, and quit flip flopping between QBs every 3 quarters. STABILITY CREATES CONFIDENCE. CONFIDENCE CREATES PRODUCTION. PRODUCTION EQUALS SUCCESS!
    Mar 22, 2012 at 11:47 PM
  • Ninerminer81
    I disagree with your assessment of CK. He has not had much opportunity to play during the regular season, due to a shortened off-season plus the fact that he's a rookie. CK is a more physically-gifted QB than Alex could ever dream of being. I truly believe that SF is more than willing to start CK if AS does not resign. The truth is that AS will not get a better offer anywhere else and will probably resign with SF. AS will be a backup by 2013 at the latest.
    Mar 20, 2012 at 2:18 PM
    I dont think its about the money for Peyton, or the Niners wouldve been out of the running. You still have to pay him something but, I really dont think its about that. He just got let go from the only team he ever played for after building them up and putting it down for 14 seasons. Its about winning and proving the Colts wrong. How is he going to do that in Ten/Den. The 49ers have all of its starting 11 on def returning. Give them a full off season with coach Fangio and its going to be same as last year. Special teams kept most of its core guys. Should be same as last year. With Peyton joining the Niners, he would have some wepeons to work with. He has a couple receivers to throw to. He has a tight end that can run. A running game plan that can go. The niners will need a couple of things upgraded. First and foremost is the offensive line and line play. With Peyton at the helm the play will improve dramaticaly. He'll be able to break a defense down and help that way. In the draft they need to move up and secure DeCastro. That will help fill all holes on the roster and solidify our Oline. Next, find a Hammer style running back to help clock mngmnt and ware down the D. Amen
    Mar 19, 2012 at 6:14 AM
  • John
    These comments about Josh Johnson have gotten out of hand. He was a good player at a DIVISION I school & has done nothing in the NFL. The Niners have shown no interest in getting him, even as a FA. No NFL team has even called him. Colin Kap has GREAT potential but the team hasn't given any indication they feel he is ready to start. EVERY report has said he can only throw the ball at one speed & he has never played in a pro offense. Even the Hassleback scenario is scary. He is one of the most injury prone QB's in the NFL (largely due to age). And his stats last year were far inferior to Alex Smith's. Most of the fans are rationalizing this situation. It will be great if Peyton come to the Niners and is injury free & plays like he did 3 years ago. But those are big ifs. Harbaugh said he needed to build a "team" with"continuity" & it took a 2 years for a QB & skill players to learn his offense. The niners have lost track of their goals: keep the Defense in place, get better WRs, improve at QB with 2nd yr and traing camp, find Gore's replacement & groom Kap for the future.
    Mar 19, 2012 at 12:36 AM
  • Pjuniorsf
    DefenderDX you just got owned shut up. But anyways I think Alex Smith is the better option. PM is 36 and is coming back from 4 neck surgeries. Who know how many hits he will be able to take before he finally goes down. Alex Smith got us to the NFC Championship! This season he will have an improved receiving corps and that should make a difference. I think he deserves to be next years starter. After all just imagine how much he will improve with having OTA'
    Mar 18, 2012 at 9:18 PM
  • jwick
    Jeebus, if Smith really thinks he'll win/get as much money with the Dolphins, have fun. Fact is, he'd be stupid to not sign with the Niners if the Niners don't get Manning.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 5:11 PM
    Response: As far as money goes in Miami, the Denver Post is reporting $8 million a year. Plus, we don't know what the 49ers' offer had as far as guaranteed money. Miami may be willing to give more money guaranteed, making them seem like a better option for Smith. Thanks for the comment.
  • Teresa S
    All would be the same had Alex signed the contract in Dec. & the 49ers stuck to their original decision of not pursuing Manning! But it seems Condon has both guys contracts in his hands, thus giving him more power to make the decisions! I hope & pray that the 49ers don't end up with nothing more then a back up as a quarterback! What a shame it would be to have a losing season, after the winning one. It seems year after year, football is about the money the players want first & what they provide fans second. Teams need to remember there is no 'I' in team & without the fans there would be no NFL! As a die hard 49er fan, I want what is best for the 49ers & their players!
    Mar 18, 2012 at 4:36 PM
    Response: Matt Maiocco is reporting that Condon is not part of the decision making process and that Manning is making the decision on his own. Like I said, the 49ers could go after Hasselbeck as a short-term solution and someone mentioned Johnson as well, which might be a good long-term option. But we just do not know. It would just be scary to have so much uncertainty at such an important position. Thanks for the comment.
  • SB
    This is a situation that the Niners had to make/take. It's as simple as this....Smith will never be a franchise quarterback, whether or not Smith comes or goes doesn't matter. Having smith or not having Smith doesn't set us back WHAT SO EVER. All Smith did was not make any mistakes. His stats, playoffs not included, were below average for a Quarterback. Elite? I have watched Smith from the beginning, granted he has never had good receivers to throw to, he has had enough opportunities to show what he can do. And what does it come down 2?... converting ONE third down the entire NFC Championship game vs The NY Giants. That is not acceptable, time to move on. Love him as a person, hes been through a lot of crap, but business is business, its time to WIN by making things happen, which he doesn't do. At this point, the Niners have nothing to lose, period.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 4:30 PM
  • 49erFan
    I believe it's in Smith's best interest to wait and see if the 49ers sign Manning. He may be upset, however, at the end of the day he has to realize his best shot at winning is with the 49ers. He very well could take his hurt feelings to Miami or another club, but what will that do for his career? The next couple of days will certainly be interesting.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 4:29 PM
  • Eric
    I don't understand. How can there be any doubt that if Manning doesn't sign with the Niners that Alex Smith doesn't re-sign with the Niners? No on is going to offer more money then the Niners. Alex is just doing his diligence looking at other teams but there's wayyyyyyyyyy too many reasons for him to wait and see if the Niners get Manning before going elsewhere. Smith can be pissed now. There's are countless situations where a player is pissed at a team then signs a contract later. The Niners are obviously the best situation for Smith. Would he throw it away because the Niners went after a HOF? No. But let's say the Titans do sign Manning. Hasselbeck would be waived and would be a great 1 year option for the team so they can groom CK. Plus, does CK need grooming? How do you know he can't put up the numbers Smith did. He has more tools then Alex does.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 4:28 PM
  • Ron T
    The key issue as to why AS didn't sign the contract offered is what was Condon's advice in not signing. Was he urging him to hold out for a compromise on years and guaranteed money or did he advise to take it. I have a hard time believing that Alex wouldn 't take the offer (though it's below market...perhaps not value) if Condon wasn't whispering "I can do better". If it's on Alex, then so be it, but not only do I think Condon screwed him, but the 9ers made sure he didn't use Vaseline. I agree with your scenarios, but Smith is out of the picture if Peyton signs. Hell of a way to reward his best effort yet...and I think he's improving...never thought I'd say that.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 4:20 PM
  • David
    Alex is upset with 49ers? They offered him a contract in December , I doubt they talked to Manning then. They assumed he was moving on since he still didn't sign contract when free agency hit. What should they have done offered him a 4 year 32 million dollar deal instead? Their original offer was fair , he only had 1 decent year his whole time with Niners. I'm not totally sold on idea that Peyton is our guy , but I'm sure Harbaugh and company have some kind of back up plan.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 4:17 PM
  • jk
    josh johnson,a forced situation? I dont know whose hole youve been crawling up under, but its a bit dark for you. Allow me to shine the light . Harbaugh has been praising johnson ever since he coached him at san diego. He is quoted as saying hes one of the most accurate, athletic and smart qbs hes ever coached, andrew luck aside.. Coach thinks of him like a son. Hes been on the back burner all along and plan b for the niners. Knows the system. Can do all that our queen alex could do and better. And of course get him on the cheap. Yes id say that's the best fallback option you could ask for and will happen if manning chooses another venue. IF lalex comes back after all that has taken place then hes more of a little wussy then i originally thought. Grow some balls and take your act elsewhere. Youve been slighted. Youve been lied to. Youve been conned by your agent. YOU ARE A LOSER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Mar 18, 2012 at 4:10 PM
  • Donjulio
    All he had to do was sign the contract offered. This is a business, they have every right to go after whomever they please.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 3:52 PM
    Response: Agreed. But in doing so, they may be setting themselves on for a bad scenario. Am I saying they should not have gone after Manning? No way. However, you can understand why they tried to keep it a secret.
  • defenderDX
    Dude Smith threw 17 touchdowns not 22... where the hell you get that from? Do your research before you write please, thanks.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 3:48 PM
    Response: 17 + 3 (vs Saints) + 2 (vs Giants) = 22. Do your research before you comment please. Thanks.
  • JT
    Josh Johnson should be factored in there somewhere--he is similar in style to Kaepernick and has worked with Harbaugh in the past. Perhaps he can sign and compete with Kaepernick for the job if Manning and Smith sign elsewhere or even if Manning signs with the Niners perhaps Johnson could sign on to be the backup.
    Mar 18, 2012 at 3:48 PM
    Response: I agree that Johnson would be intriguing. Just not ideal for the 49ers to be forced into a situation.

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