It’s hard to imagine a quarterback being benched when he was finally living up to his No. 1-overall draft selection. He was completing a league-high 70.2 percent of his passes when a concussion sidelined him. Besides that impressive mark, he was carrying a 104.1 passer rating, which is 25 points higher than his career mark.
But, then again, Smith was not the pick of Jim Harbaugh’s staff and is perceived to be limited in some aspects of his game. Specifically, Smith isn’t the type of quarterback who can scare defenses with his arm strength on deep throws. Smith succeeded in being pretty accurate when throwing down the field, though.
On throws of 21 yards or farther over the past two seasons, Smith completed 40 percent of his passes. In comparison, Eli Manning (37 percent), Tom Brady (33 percent) and Philip Rivers (32 percent) are the next closest to his mark over that span.
Perceived deficiencies aside, he might be the best option as there are no instant-impact quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL draft class. Teams will certainly weigh taking a chance on him once discussions begin.
Salary-wise, Smith is due $6.5 million if still on the 49ers roster on April 1. He’s also lined up to make $7.5 million in 2014. Both numbers are absurd for a backup QB, making a deal before April the most likely scenario.
Let’s take a look at a few teams that should consider bringing Smith aboard.
Kansas City Chiefs
There is little chance Andy Reid begins a new era in Kansas City with either Brady Quinn or Matt Cassel as his starting quarterback. Both have had their chance to shine in the NFL and have failed to deliver. Reid won’t make the mistake of putting his legacy on the line by rolling with either of them.
But what would Smith bring to the table for the Chiefs?
They certainly aren’t as much of a smash-mouth team like the 49ers. That tough physical nature of the Niners helped keep Smith protected by utilizing the play-action pass. Jamaal Charles would provide Smith an instant relief in that department because speed kills in the NFL, and he has it in droves.
With Dwayne Bowe set to depart, the Chiefs would have to add a top-tier wide receiver and absorb Smith’s contract in order for this to work out for them. Smith finally had a decent receiving corps in 2012, and it benefited the former No. 1 pick.
New York Jets
There’s no sugarcoating it; Mark Sanchez is not a very good starting quarterback. He was benched in favor of third-string quarterback Greg McElroy toward the end of the season after Sanchez flopped all season long.
McElroy, a seventh-round pick by the Jets in 2011, won’t be confused with Tom Brady anytime soon. The fact that Sanchez, a former Top-Five pick, was benched in his favor speaks volumes about his future at the helm of the New York Jets offense.
But would Smith be a big upgrade over Sanchez?
Sure he would. As much as Smith has struggled in his career he has not looked as poor as Sanchez in any recent season. He’s a winning quarterback who will benefit from the expertise of new Jets offensive coordinator Mary Mornhinweg.
Smith is an effective NFL starter with more experience, poise and accuracy than Sanchez. It’s really a no-brainer for the Jets.
This is perhaps the best fit for Alex Smith. Christian Ponder has shown no signs that he is ready or capable to take the Minnesota Vikings to the next level.
His absence during the team’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers showed his value to the team. Imagine, for a second, how well another quarterback would perform if inserted into his place?
Any quarterback with the threat of Adrian Peterson toting the ball behind him should have an extra second or two to make his reads and deliver the ball down the field. That hasn’t seemed to help Ponder.
Smith has played in a system similar to the one in place in Minnesota and he thrived, as mentioned previously. His accuracy and ability to lead his team made him a key cog in the 49ers' 6-2 start in 2012. He wasn’t just a game manager, but a player who made plays and moved the chains.
Ponder hasn’t proven to be a guy who is able to do much more than hand off to Peterson and let him do the work. Smith would do that as well, and more, while leading the Vikings to new heights.