Delving into the 49ers-McNabb issues

Veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb is on the trade block, in case you haven’t heard. He is the subject of rampant speculation. Many believe all the 49ers need is solid quarterback play to be among the contenders in the NFC.


But there are no indications the 49ers are interested in acquiring McNabb from the Eagles. REPEAT: There are no indications the 49ers are interested in acquiring McNabb.


OK, but why not?


Let’s examine the issues . . .

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Even the most ardent Alex Smith supporter is unable to make a convincing case that No. 11 has proved he is capable to being a top-notch NFL quarterback.


Those who have made up their minds on the other side often talk about the “Alex-cuses” that are made for him. Excuses or not, there is no denying it would’ve been extremely difficult for anybody to succeed with a different offensive coordinator every season. Only one of those coordinators (Jim Hostler) had been on the 49ers’ staff the previous season.


It would’ve been difficult for anyone, but it has been more vexing for Smith because he is an analytical thinker who does not function well when improvisational skills are required. (Smith scored a remarkable 40 on the Wonderlic test.)


I’m reasonably confident in predicting McNabb will post better numbers in 2010 than Smith – regardless of where they’re playing. McNabb has always compiled impressive numbers, as the Eagles typically rely heavily on the passing game. For his career, McNabb has thrown 216 touchdowns and 100 interceptions.


Smith has played noticeably better in each of his three healthy NFL seasons. So the 49ers have to ask themselves: Will that growth continue? How much better can he become? How much worse would McNabb be with a new team?


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Seemingly, the 49ers have already asked themselves those questions. Here’s what 49ers director of player personnel Trent Baalke had to say when he spoke to reporters last week.


On the 49ers quarterback situation:

Baalke: “I think we’re very comfortable with where we’re at this point. I think coach Singletary has made that clear.”


Q: Is there any thought about acquiring a veteran QB like Donovan McNabb?

Baalke: “I think first, you have to respect the league policy, which obviously he’s under contract with another team, so it’s a discussion that, no. 1, we can’t have and we wouldn’t have.”


Q: You wouldn’t have that talk with the Eagles?

Baalke: “No.”


Q: Because you’re happy with the QBs you have?

Baalke: “I think right now. … The way you have to look at this, we’re very happy with the situation we’re in right now. I think you’re always looking and evaluation players throughout the course of the year. You’re always looking at ways to better your team at any position. Right now we’re very comfortable with where we’re at, and that’s where we’re going to leave it.”


Q: If you get quarterback play, is this roster a few draft picks away from being a playoff team?
: “Most definitely. You look at the quarterback play, I’m excited for the opportunity to see Alex in a situation where he has the same offensive coordinator going into a second season with the same system, the same play-caller and even more talent around him. So do I think this roster is in position to make a playoff run? Most definitely. Do we need to add some pieces to the puzzle? Most definitely, but we’re going to be able to do that. That’s what the draft is for.”


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Smith took a paycut last year to return to the 49ers on a two-year, $6.5 million contract. He played well enough to provide some hope. But he did not play well enough to clearly assert himself as the long-term starter.


The 49ers will wait to see how he plays this season before making a decision on his future. If he bumps his passer rating into the mid-80s and plays well in important games, he’ll likely solidify his spot as the starter.


If his play stagnates and he struggles when the 49ers need him to produce, he is not likely to return.


And everybody will be wondering why the 49ers wasted another season on him when the roster was set up to be a contender.


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Football considerations

–Donovan McNabb is 33 years old. He’s played 11 NFL seasons.

–Alex Smith turns 26 in May. He’s entering his sixth NFL season.

–Last season, McNabb was the 12th-rated passer in the NFL with a rating of 92.9. McNabb was seventh in the NFL with 8.02 yards per pass attempt.

–Smith was the 19th-rated passer in the NFL with a rating of 81.5. Smith ranked 24th in the NFL with 6.32 yards per pass attempt.

–McNabb completed 60.3 percent of his pass attempts. Smith completed 60.5 percent of his pass attempts. McNabb has completed better than 60 percent of his attempts four times in 11 seasons.

–If McNabb were to jump to a different team with a system different than what he experienced his first 11 season, one would expect his production to decrease.

–If Smith remains as the starter in the same system for a second year in a row, with a full offseason to work with his presumptive top wideout, one would expect his production to increase.


Financial considerations

–Although there is no NFL salary cap, every organization clearly has a budget. The addition of McNabb would cost the 49ers an additional $11.2 million in player compensation for the upcoming season.

–With tight end Vernon Davis (signed through 2010), Patrick Willis (2011), Dashon Goldson (2010) and others coming up on the ends of their contracts, does that mean the 49ers would be unable to re-sign one of those players? After all, McNabb is due to earn $11 million this season. And if the club traded for him, they’d have to be willing to give him a lucrative multi-year contract.

–The 49ers are one of the league’s low-revenue teams. Like it or not, there is a possibility of no football in 2011. The 49ers wouldn’t make a deal with the Eagles unless they can guarantee themselves McNabb will be around more than one year. And would the 49ers be willing to pay a large up-front signing bonus this year when there’s the potential that they won’t be playing football next year?


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