Yesterday, I remarked that there is little chance that Alex Smith will not settle in as the Franchise QB this coming season. Some folks might consider this remark a bit of an overstatement. Wishful thinking. Out and out balderdash.
But I think it’s pertinent to focus on one aspect of Smith’s career as a QB. He has NEVER failed to improve from one year to the next. Not in high school, not in college, and not in the NFL. For him to regress or merely stay the same 19th rated QB in the league would represent a first in his life.
Not only would lack of improvement be an extraordinary event, it would have to be accomplished despite having the best set of WRs he’s ever had, the best team surrounding him, and the first time he is running the same offense as the previous season, with the same WRs as the previous season. Those are fairly daunting odds to bet against.
Matt Ryan is generally regarded as an up and coming star, but he was the 20th ranked QB last season, a notch below Smith. Ryan did this while operating the same offense as the previous year. Smith not only had a new offense, but did not practice it with the first team until six games into the season. Ryan has played 2 consecutive NFL seasons and 30 games total in the NFL, Smith has played 40 games total with only one full season and parts of three other seasons, separated by two years on IR. Ryan regressed in his second year. Smith has never regressed.
Smith is in the last year of his current two year contract. Many think he will not be signed to a new contract. That is not very likely to happen. There are three scenarios where he would be re-signed and only one where he would not.
Scenario number one: Smith plays well and leads the team to the playoffs. Two: Smith plays ordinary and the team goes to the playoffs. Three: Smith plays well but some other part of the team does not and the team fails to make the playoffs. Four, and the only scenario which would cause the team to let him go: he plays poorly and is replaced by David Carr during the season.
Scenario one above would result in a lucrative new contract for Smith. Scenario two would probably result in an extension of his current and affordable contract, plus a return to a QB competition in 2011 between Smith, Carr, and perhaps Nate Davis. Scenario three might well depend on whether Mike Singletary is still the HC, but a new HC who did not want a good QB on his team would be tough to imagine.
Bloggers who feel it will be a big surprise if Smith proves to be a good QB don’t really have the facts and history on their side. So they have invented their own history and their own facts. The primary distortion is treating his five years with the team as though he has played all five years, disregarding his two years on IR, or labeling references to it as mere excuses. Facts are not excuses and purposeful distortions are not honest evaluations. Building on the primary distortion, bloggers have invented a whole list of things Smith can’t do: play under center, read defenses, throw accurately, smile manfully, bark forcefully, etc.
The reality is that Smith has not played a full season since 2006, when he led a team with 5-11 talent to a 7-9 season. Since then, a cottage industry has been erected to discredit him. The negative bandwagon dates to 2007 when he attempted to play three games with a broken shoulder, looking awful in all three of them, one of which occurred on national TV, which led to a national perception of him as a bust, instead of what was really true, that he was injured and should not have been playing at all.
While Smith did not play the rest of that season or the entire 2008 season, he did participate in two off season programs and training camps, where he failed to re-claim the starting job. This cemented his status as a bust, disregarding that he was still injured in the 2008 camp and Mike Martz had brought in his own QB, the ill-fated J.T. O’Sullivan, to run his offense and gave neither Smith nor Shaun Hill any real chance to be the starting QB. By 2009, Hill had become the starter and, though not out-playing Smith in the off season, retained that status to begin the 2009 campaign, until Smith replaced him in game number 6. When Smith entered that game, it had been two full seasons since he had taken a snap in a real game. Miracles were expected — no, demanded — and they did not come.
Smith’s tenure with the 49ers has certainly been a frustrating saga for him, the team, and the fans. Amen to that. However, it has not been a failure and, barring injury, will emerge as a heart-warming success story this coming season.