Two weeks from Free Agency lift off. Contrary to last year, there aren’t a lot of skeptics who will be howling if Trent Baalke sits out the first week of action. Baalke was a very cool customer last year, as he stuck to his “plan” while complaints roared in from every corner of the 49er empire. This year, he’s sporting Executive of the Year honors as a criticism shield.
He’s also sporting “Super Bowl Contender” as a sales incentive. The players who are just looking for the money will still go else where, but guys looking to play for a winner, too, will listen a little longer and try a little harder to reach a deal. That may not help since the team needs a big time WR this year, and WRs are not highly regarded in matters related to cognitive effort. Still, it can’t hurt.
On the home front, Baalke signed Ahmad Brooks to a six year deal Tuesday, surprising most everybody, including Brooks’ teammate, Carlos Rogers. Brooks was seen by most as a guy wanting too much money and the 49ers letting him go. Obviously, the team valued Brooks a lot more than anyone thought. It was a clear signal that the pass rush was considered the cornerstone of a good pass defense, not lock down cornerbacks, which Rogers is not. He’s either getting wider eyes for his own FA value, based on Brooks’ deal, or squintier eyes wondering if the team plans on bringing him back at a sweet price or even at all.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Alex Smith will be signing a new multi-year contract sometime in the next two weeks. The details of this contract are going to be examined by every microscope in the Bay Area. The probes will attempt to deduce the hidden value attached to Smith by 49er HQ. For those who would rather miss the playoffs next year than see number 11 trot out to a huddle, the most sought after clue will be when the 49ers could cut Smith without much damage to the salary cap. IOW, how much do the 49ers believe in Smith.
Aaron Rodgers was a first round pick who waited three years before taking over for Brett Farve. He went 6-10 in his first year as the starter. Colin Kaepernick is a second round pick who will certainly wait at least a second year behind Smith. Whether he waits three years, depends on Smith or injury.
If Smith keeps winning games and stays healthy, he will be difficult to unseat. Especially if he wins a Super Bowl. Kaepernick may have superior skills to Smith, but the reality is, nobody benches or cuts a winning quarterback unless, like Farve and probably Peyton Manning, he is getting old and a good young talent is ready or necessary to step in.
Obviously, Smith is not getting old. He’s entering the prime of his career. Even with last year’s success, however, nobody has Franchise belief in him — at this point. He’ll have to keep winning games to stay on the job. As long as he’s winning, Kaepernick will not be getting real time experience, learning to read defenses, staying cool under pressure, or any of the other things that can only be learned by playing in actual games.
With playoffs once again at stake for the 49ers, Kaepernick is not likely to get the game time he needs to develop beyond just having potential. The exhibition season will be the only showcase for his skills. Jim Harbaugh is not going to sacrifice even one game just to see how Kaepernick performs.
In actuality, Kaepernick’s biggest challenge in 2012 will be holding off Scott Tolzien for the number two, backup QB spot. Failure to clearly outshine Tolzien will not bode well for his future in red and gold, or anywhere else. He will go from QB of the future to trade bait in a hurry.
Should Kaepernick hold off Tolzien, he, like many entrenched disgruntled blogists, will have to wait patiently for the day Smith is carted off the field on a stretcher or loses three or four games in a row.