Article Title: Coming to terms with Smith.
The San Francisco 49er fan base is seemingly divided when it comes to celebrating the newly restructured base contract of quarterback Alex Smith. Smith was selected by the 49ers with the very first pick of the 2005 NFL draft out of the University of Utah and was thought to be the next great hope following in the legendary footsteps of historic marvels such as Joe Montana and Steve Young.
There are some sports columnists that side with the fact that Alex Smith hasn’t had his true day in court so to say; in that he hasn’t had the proper amount of time needed to build a case for his true identity. That identity is to be the true number one overall draft pick savior he was intended to be back in 2005, but as of yet is still waiting to materialize.
I think in Alex’s mind he still has some unfinished business to attend to as a 49er? He has stated on several occasions that he has compassion for the organization in picking him at number one in the 2005 NFL draft and that he wants to prove he is still deserving of that.
This sense of profound loyalty is baffling for some and accepted by others. Alex Smith’s original contract as the franchise’s new quarterback was for $49.5 million dollars, of that money about half is now in his pocket with four straight losing seasons to show for it. General Manager Scot McCloughan from the very beginning stressed the immediate need for Alex to consider restructuring that contract if he were to keep wearing a 49er uniform. There would be no spot on a 2009 49er roster for the beloved franchise quarterback if he was unwilling to make a personal sacrifice for the team.
Alex was scheduled to earn a base salary of $9.625 million. After Alex conveyed his willingness to stay and trim his contract, the 49er hierarchy embraced Alex and promised him a shot at the starting position via training camp. In all Smith pocketed $26.3 million dollars over his first four seasons as the perceived leader of this offense.
Taking in a piece of humble pie he willingly stated that taking a personal pay cut was not a deadly blow to his ego, but an opportunity to show 49er fans that he wishes to complete the job he started out to do and that is to be the coveted director of this San Francisco 49er offense.
Smith’s original contract would have meant a staggering salary cap figure of $12,291,666. Following his restructuring Alex’s new deal saves the 49ers around $6 million on the salary cap. His new deal is believed to be worth approximately $6.5 million over his remaining two seasons. He also can make another $2 million annually in incentives that have been laid out as goals for him to achieve.
Looking back four seasons ago after Alex Smith was drafted on what were known strengths in describing his character in relation to his competitor in Aaron Rodgers who is now a stunning success story in Green Bay, one has to wonder if the brains of our business knew what they were doing.
The contradictions are many especially when you consider how adamant then head coach Mike Nolan felt about Alex and his perceived character and then turned on him by ridiculing his “toughness,” and inability to play through what was then a serious injury.
I feel the first mistake in drafting Alex was the pure based fact that he came from the University of Utah’s spread offense at the tender age of 20. Forcing Alex to take the reins of the 49er offense at age 21 was a throwing in of the towel so to say on a season mired with ignorant gestures from ownership and management. I can still remember the orchestra or should I say circus of quarterbacks back then in Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett.
Alex Smith was cast in this buzz saw activity. A seemingly long endless drought of one failure of a quarterback right after another since the waiving of veteran Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia, had Alex been afforded the opportunity to stand behind a Jeff Garcia for an extended period of time his development probably would’ve been far better than where it is today.
Now we have flashback of training camp a few seasons ago in the form of Alex Smith once again battling Shaun Hill for the starting position with newly signed veteran quarterback Damon Huard standing on the sidelines, poising in the role that Trent Dilfer did as this competition heats up. Smith, will turn 25 in May. He has played in just three healthy games over the past two seasons for the 49ers.
It has been a minefield of injuries and setbacks for the promising star stud we thought we were getting in that he sustained a shoulder separation early in the 2007 season before then opting for season-ending surgery later in that year. This is the season where Alex Smith actually played through some vividly painful moments in that he was seen grimacing in excruciating pain and was later ridiculed by Mike Nolan as being too soft.
Communication between Alex Smith and Mike Nolan was obviously non-existent in that neither of them had the right compatibility with one another in coming clean with the true ramifications this injury entailed. It then became a game of finger-pointing and self-imaging with one blaming the other over the means of dialogue that each thought they had with one another.
And now just this past season in 2008, Smith lost the quarterback competition to J.T. O’Sullivan in training camp who was brought in under then offensive coordinator Mike Martz as a former pupil of his. Then, if that wasn’t enough he sustained a mysterious fracture within his maligned right shoulder just before the start of the regular season.
Smith never had the benefit of watching a veteran legend like Aaron Rodgers did for two seasons behind Brett Favre. He never had the consistency of receiving instructions from the same offensive coordinator in that he’ll be on his own with new 49er offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye.
In fact Alex Smith has had to deal with an endless carnival of offensive coordinators which with Raye would tally number five. It wasn’t until 2006 under Norv Turner that Smith indicates that there was hope in that he completed 257 of 442 passes for 2,890 yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. But as Norv Turner said goodbye the sky seemed to fall right on top of Alex Smith.
Now upon his restructuring which was delayed a bit because he just recently was married to former Oakland Raiders cheerleader Elizabeth Barry on Feb. 21st, in San Francisco. They enjoyed their honeymoon in the Maldives which is a group of islands located in the Indian Ocean. Smith is now eager for redemption.
But obstacles remain in place. He must gain the trust and respect of his teammates all over again, deal with yet another offensive playbook that is Jimmy Raye’s but closely resembles that of Norv Turner’s and he has to be a heck of a lot more durable by way of avoiding injury.
I can still see the horrific nightmare on September 30th, 2007, when a devastating sack by Seattle Seahawk Rocky Bernard sent Smith’s upswing career right into a nose dive. It was from this injury on out that sent Mr. Smith into complete isolation and deep exile from the team and its fans.
What was then remains now, an offensive line that cannot pass protect. What was Mike Nolan’s main objective in solidifying an offensive line regarding Pro Bowl talent turned out to be yet another joke? Smith’s right shoulder remains as much in peril as it did back in early 2007. The coaching staff remains a mystery; there really isn’t a real proven quarterback mentor that can help Smith who is currently on the 49er roster?
San Francisco 49er quarterback coach Mike Johnson has had some success while in Atlanta tutoring Michael Vick and in San Diego with Doug Flutie but does he have what it takes to turn an emotional corner in Alex Smith’s career thus far?
No one yet knows how the relationship will be between Jimmy Raye and Alex Smith as far as the playbook and terminology. One thing we do know is that Norv Turners principles are similar to those that Jimmy has especially where Jimmy has coached under Norv already. The competition between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith within this upcoming training camp will hold the same interesting scenarios as there was back in 2007 where Trent Dilfer awaited as the veteran presence in the background.
Now there is Damon Huard a battle tested veteran but not with the same clout of a former Super Bowl quarterback as Dilfer was. Alex Smith will either be the starting and or second tier quarterback on this roster and that seems to be kosher between two good friends in Hill and Smith.
Shaun Hill was even a member of Alex Smith’s wedding party as a groomsman and is comical when describing the competition that exists between the two as they prepare to fight for the coveted position of leadership. Smith has only played in 19 meaningful games thus far into his career.
Now some would say that he is a bust. What can Alex Smith possibly do to eradicate those perceived thoughts? I’ll be honest I think right now he is a bust, but that is based upon my analysis and observations of him as the seasons have passed by. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he hasn’t had the supporting offensive line to help him.
But his flaws as a quarterback are well documented. His inaccuracy and tendency to overthrow and under-throw to his receivers, his ability to sense the pass rush and know where the rush is coming from, his tendency to not secure the football and prevent fumbling and his inability to improvise and make third down conversions.
Remember the San Francisco 49ers have compiled an 11-19 record in games Alex Smith has started in his career. Shaun Hill is 7-3 as a starter. He has earned the right to stay unless Smith can justify that change is necessary. Not playing behind a veteran like a Jeff Garcia and injuries have had a profound effect on his ability to perform at a high level.
His signing a restructured contract for less and wanting to be in San Francisco says a lot to some and I must concur. But as I grow older so does the expectation to win. Knowing what we were back in our dynasty and coping with what we have now creates more white hair then one can ever control. I feel Alex Smith’s window is almost closed. This has to be the year we know for sure.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.