Given Jim Harbaugh’s reputation as the Quarterback Whisperer and Alex Smith’s reputation for occasional flashes of brilliance, a certain segment of Niners fans are still wondering: Could the Alex Smith Experiment be renewed for a seventh season?
The answer: No.
That’s not my opinion.
It sure sounds like that’s what general manager Trent Baalke said during two radio interviews last week.
For starters, Baalke said this to NBC’s Mike Florio: “Is the quarterback of the future on this roster? I think it’s obvious that he isn’t at this point.”
That doesn’t seem to leave much room for interpretation.
But just in case someone could read between the lines, squint really hard and imagine Alex Smith back in San Francisco, there was Baalke’s subsequent interview on KNBR.
During the interview, Baalke pointed to quarterback play as the underlying problem for some protection issues on the offensive line and a lack of production from the wide receivers.
In explaining right tackle Anthony Davis’ breakdowns in pass protection, Baalke said the rookie’s inconsistency was due, in part, to his quarterback’s indecision.
“When you’re not functioning well offensively at times and your quarterback is holding on to the ball for three, three-and-half, four, four-and-half seconds,” Baalke said, “… if you go back and chart Green Bay, for instance, and Aaron Rodgers and Indianapolis with Peyton Manning. Those guys are getting the ball kicked out of their hand in one-and-half, two, two-and-half seconds at the most. You’re not protecting for three-and-a-half, four seconds. It’s awfully difficult to protect for four, four-and-half seconds. You just don’t see it very often. I think Anthony’s done a heck of a job. I think he’s going to be a heck of a pro. He’s a delight to be around and he works his tail end off. He’s just going to get better.”
Baalke also suggested wide receivers Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree would get better with a quarterback who could do a better job of getting them the ball.
Morgan and Crabtree combined for 99 catches, 1,439 yards and eight touchdowns this past season. Atlanta’s Roddy White had 115 catches, 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“In all honesty it’s been hard to evaluate those guys because they haven’t got a lot of touches,” Baalke said. “And it’s been an issue for them. It’s been an issue for our offense. It’s not allowed us to play with the same type of continuity that we’d like on the offensive side. This year’s going to give a chance to sit back and evaluate that position from a different perspective.”
And, presumably, there will be a different perspective because there will be a different quarterback.
Even if the lockout drags on throughout the summer, it doesn’t sound as if Baalke is ready to re-sign Smith, an unrestricted free agent who, by all indications, is equally eager to bolt the boo-filled Bay Area.
“There’s three ways we can attack this … there’s the draft, there’s free agency and there’s trades,” Baalke said of overhauling the quarterback position. “And this year because the CBA being the way it is and the likelihood of it not being in place, we could be drafting before the trade or free agency periods are a viable vehicle for us and that’s the nature of it. So we might go into the draft not knowing what’s available trade-wise. What’s available in free agency and what we have access to. So we’re prepared to do that.”