The SF 49ers could make changes at quarterback in 2021, yet going after Washington’s Alex Smith would make so many things right next year.
Smith isn’t a free agent this offseason. At least not yet. But with Washington choosing either between its former high-profile first-round NFL Draft pick, Dwayne Haskins, or potentially landing yet another prospective signal-caller in the 2021 draft, one might almost guarantee the Football Team will want to move on from the 36-year-old Smith next year at a cap savings of at least $14.7 million with zero in guaranteed money.
Smith’s return to the football field following a life-threatening leg injury suffered in 2018, followed by a near-miraculous recovery to finally get back this season has been nothing short of remarkable.
For a Niners team needing some of its own feel-good stories amid injuries in 2020, landing Smith under center would have a tremendous impact.
There are sentimental and practical reasons why this should happen. Most fans understand the first part, but here you go.
SF 49ers can give Alex Smith a catharsis in 2021
Smith’s early years in the league after being selected No. 1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft need little backstory. All those offensive coordinators on bad teams. The ridicule and criticism from coaches and fans alike.
When Smith finally turned his career around in 2011 under then-head coach Jim Harbaugh, the success was shortlived, and the Utah product was subsequently shown the door in favor of up-and-coming quarterback Colin Kaepernick after 2012.
In a way, that set a trend for Smith’s career thereafter. He became a placeholder for quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, then again in Washington for Haskins or whoever winds up taking the job there next season.
And it’ll still probably be the same if an SF 49ers reunion happens in 2021.
But for Smith, he’ll have a chance to go back to the team that drafted him, coming full circle and receiving the praise and adoration from the fanbase that eluded him for the majority of his career in San Francisco.
SF 49ers have practical reasons for signing Alex Smith, too
If that’s the case, a number of possibilities can happen. San Francisco could take a quarterback early in the 2021 draft. But a disproportionately high number of teams selecting in the top 15, perhaps including Washington, could be looking at signal-callers, too. Even if the SF 49ers grab a quarterback they like, immediately tossing him into the fray might be a bit premature.
What would be needed is a veteran mentor. Smith did that already for Kaepernick, Mahomes and Haskins, most recently.
Perhaps the Niners punt on grabbing a high-profile quarterback in the draft next year, which would still allow Smith to enjoy his reunion tour without the immediate pressure of staving off an up-and-coming rookie.
That’s fine, too.
But what about his comparison to Garoppolo? Well, the knowledge of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense wouldn’t be completely foreign, as Smith’s 2018 campaign under then-head coach Jay Gruden operated a similar system. And true, Smith doesn’t exactly have the arm strength or tendency to throw deep down the field, rather relying on those short- and intermediate-area throws over the bulk of his career.
Not unlike Garoppolo.
The thing, though, is Garoppolo’s interception tendencies — his 2.9 interception percentage over four years with the Niners is one of the highest among qualifiers during that span — are completely unlike those of Smith.
Smith’s career interception percentage is 2.1. And if you take away his abbreviated 2020 campaign, Smith hasn’t gone above 2.0 since 2012 when he last was with San Francisco.
In a nutshell, the SF 49ers would be getting qualities similar to Garoppolo but without the elevated risk of turnovers.
That’s a boost, too.
Most importantly, the Niners would be doing right by their former first-round draft pick while not sacrificing an open Super Bowl window at the expense of grabbing a rookie in the 2021 draft, instead allowing Smith to get one final shot at a championship.