The mid-season benching of Alex Smith could not have come at a worse time for him.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback's level of play was at the highest point of his career. His 70 percent completion percentage led the entire NFL. His quarterback rating was among the top three in the NFL. His win-loss percentage over the past one-and-a-half years was an astronomical 76 percent. A quarterback does not get much better at his job than that, ever.
And yet he was benched, originally for a concussion, but then forced to sit while he was replaced by a second-year backup with one-half of a game under his belt.
Jim Harbaugh, the coach that switched horses in mid-stream and risked his career in the process, will go down in NFL history—either as the biggest dope who broke one of the NFL’s most cherished no-no’s, or as the most brilliant genius the game has ever seen.
Talk about rolling the dice.
His legacy will depend on the success of his controversial decision. If Kaepernick takes the team to the Super Bowl and wins it all, Harbaugh will be lauded. Books will be written and movies will be made. Both Harbaugh and Kaepernick will be heroes.
If the 49ers falter, for whatever reason, and do not win the Super Bowl, both will be demeaned and laughed at. Fans, never known for their consistency, will desert them as quickly as they can.
Books will still be written, but in an entirely different vein. Movies will be made about Alex Smith and his road from unsuccessful quarterback to one of the best ever. Kaepernick’s and Harbaugh’s roles will be minor plot twists.
All three men are under terrific pressure, no matter how cool they appear in public.
Harbaugh made a gutsy, perhaps even rash, decision, and will see his career live or die depending on the results.
Colin Kaepernick now finds himself with the opportunity and the spotlight he has wished for since he was a kid. But he will also have the onus of actually living up to the hype. He’s living in a honeymoon with the writers and the fans now, but he will also have to live through the bad times that always come with being in the spotlight.
Alex Smith has been humiliated in the grossest way, all of the chatter about the NFL being a business aside. We are talking people here, and not legal fictions.
So there is pressure, pressure, pressure all around.
So where does Alex go from here? Staying with the 49ers is obviously out. To tell a quarterback with the third-highest rating in the NFL he is not good enough is more than one can accept. This has to be the last straw; the one insult that, no matter how forbearing a personality one has, simply cannot be forgiven.
It would be considerate of the 49ers to go ahead and allow him to leave now, rather than force him to sit and watch his replacement take over the team he has led, for ill and good, for over seven years. That, of course, will not happen. So he will sit there with his own thoughts, hoping he can somehow get back into the game.
With his record, Alex Smith can write his own ticket to probably ten teams around the league in 2013.
Just in the NFC West, there are the Arizona Cardinals, who would snap him up in a New York minute. The St. Louis Rams would also be interested, given the Sam Bradford situation. Either team would welcome a steady, reliable hand at the helm, and either team could compete with the 49ers if they had one.
Across the bay, the Oakland Raiders might be interested in an offer that would not require Smith to move out of his California quarters.
There are many teams in the NFL that would welcome a quarterback with Smith’s resume. He will find work, and perhaps even appreciation, next year. But he will not find it with the 49ers.
I, for one, am sorry to see him go. Alex Smith provided many hours of entertainment for me over the past few years. He put in yeoman duty at the 49ers and deflected myriad slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune for many years with patience and class.
Whatever your feelings about him, you must admit that Alex Smith is a class act. He will be missed. Bon voyage and I hope he finds a good berth.