The Bay Area beat reporters have been milking the Jim Harbaugh/Alex Smith courtship almost daily, but this site, in deference to its readers who have gagging issues, has mostly demurred from squeezing that udder. None of these scribes actually expects Smith to sign up for another term as the 49ers resident punching bag, so the curiosity has mostly been with Harbaugh’s interest. What does he see that has escaped the notice of a goodly portion of the blogosphere and the scribes themselves?
The conclusion most have drawn is that this is an affair solely conducted because of the uncertainty surrounding the expiring CBA. Believing that scenario, however, implicitly indicts Harbaugh. To wit, why waste time courting a guy if you have confidence that you can find one in trade, in the draft, and in free agency? OC Greg Roman has claimed such confidence — even excitement — and Trent Baalke has promised to deliver it. Does Harbaugh doubt these two and their claims? Is he exhibiting some kind of desperation as his first act in office?
One notion is that Harbaugh seeks to glorify himself by doing with Smith what previous 49er coaches have failed to do. That idea would have more cred if Harbaugh had already proven himself on the big stage of the NFL, but it seems unlikely he would make it his first task. His first task has to be getting the Niners into the playoffs, not polishing his own ego.
The most obvious reason is that Harbaugh thinks Smith might be the best QB he can put under center this coming year. That is the conclusion anyone would draw if the QB wooed was anybody but Smith. To accept this conclusion, though, means to many that they must question Harbaugh’s sanity or fitness for office, which have been wildly acclaimed up to now.
Not wishing to go that far, most seem to be settling on the notion that Smith is viewed as a one year rental while Harbaugh develops the QB he actually wants. This is reflected in two polls Maiocco conducted. One asked if fans could accept having Smith on the team next year, and 70% responded yes. The other asked if they wanted Smith as the starter, and 53% said no.
It seems doubtful that Smith would re-up with the 49ers for any reason at all, let alone to keep a spot warm for someone else. But the fact that Harbaugh is spending time singing Smith’s praises seems to indicate he has gotten Smith to seriously consider re-signing, which could only have happened if Smith believed he had a chance to win the job and keep it, which could only have happened if Harbaugh had convinced him that chance was real. What is not likely is that either man feels like wasting a year going nowhere.
It is difficult for this site to draw any conclusion other than Harbaugh thinks Smith can be salvaged. Smith himself has until March 3rd to opt into the deal. If he chooses not, there is virtually no chance he will ever play here again. When free agency begins, Smith will have several options more rewarding that offer him a clean slate with a new fan base. And that is the scenario that is most likely to occur.
Still, one nebber knows. Smith dislikers have eleven more days to sweat bullets. Eleven more days to wince apprehensively before opening up the morning newspaper or browser. Should that day come and go without Smith’s signature on a contract, the darkness that has settled over their fandom will finally be lifted. The world will be bright and hopeful once again. Good luck, guys. Tick, tick, tick.