With Michael Vick returning to the Eagles at severely reduced pay, and Joe Flacco almost certainly getting a huge payday from the Ravens, Alex Smith has emerged as the top veteran QB for a struggling team to pursue this offseason. With Colin Kaepernick firmly locked in as the 49ers Quarterback of the future, Smith will almost certainly be headed elsewhere, to a team that will give him a chance to be a starting quarterback.
Some may question the value of pursuing a guy like Smith. Throughout his career, he’s been derided as a player who can be nothing more than a “game manager” quarterback, meaning he’s capable of not ruining a good situation, but you can’t count on him to win games by himself. Looking at what he’s accomplished over the past two seasons, though, he’s clearly a bit more than that, and whichever teams picks him up could have a bonafide franchise QB on their hands.
Over the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Smith threw for 30 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions, while compiling a record of 19-5-1. Before he was injured, he had the third-highest quarterback rating in the NFL. Quite simply, Smith has been very good these last two years. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency to only focus on shortcomings.
The idea exists that a team can’t win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith as their quarterback. Supposedly, the 2011 NFC Championship Game against the Giants proved that, and the decision to go with Kaepernick is what pushed San Francisco to the “next level.” But that’s not as cut and dry as it seems. Did Smith play poorly against the Giants in that game? Sure. But that just puts him in the same company as all the other quarterbacks who were stifled by the Giants’ defense during that playoff run. You know, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady?
And really, if Kyle Williams never fumbles the ball, the Smith-led 49ers probably would have made the Super Bowl, and considering how well they matched up against the Patriots, they easily could have won. If a few things out of Smith’s control had gone differently, he may have taken the Niners just as far as Kaepernick took them this postseason. Maybe even that one step further.
More to the point, Smith has shown he can win big games. His performance in the 49ers’ 35-34 victory over the Saints in that same playoffs was marvelous. When the game looked like it was over, Smith threw a perfect strike to Vernon Davis for the game-winning TD:
Clearly, Smith can be a leader when he needs to be, and he can handle himself in a duel with an all-pro QB like Drew Brees.
There’s no doubt that Smith could help a number of NFL franchises. Take the Buffalo Bills, who have endured the poor decision making of Ryan Fitzpatrick for three seasons now. Surely they’d be better off with a quarterback who throws fewer interceptions, has a stronger arm, and does better in clutch situations.
Or how about the New York Jets? That fan base probably can’t swallow a single extra second of Mark Sanchez. Bringing on an efficient, accurate quarterback like Smith would vastly improve the Jets’ pathetic offense, and possibly put them right back into playoff contention.
The Browns, Jaguars and Chiefs should all consider taking aim at Smith, too. Considering how important a good quarterback is these days, and what we know Smith can bring to the table, he should find himself on another team before too long. The 49ers could try to keep him as a backup, but the demand will simply be too high. On September 8, 2013, Alex Smith will definitely be starting for an NFL franchise. And whatever team that is, they’ll be headed in the right direction.
John Hugar is a TDdaily contributor based in Buffalo, NY. Follow him on Twitter @JohnHugar.