After talking about being methodical and cautious over the past year and a half, the San Francisco 49ers are acting like 21-year-olds on their first trip to Las Vegas.
What they have might be good, but suddenly they have the urge to splurge. Cautious has left the building. The Niners’ braintrust was willing to gamble on greatness, signing Randy Moss and going after Peyton Manning.
But what happens now that Manning is headed to the Broncos, as ESPN has reported today?
If quarterback Alex Smith decides to sign with the Dolphins – whom he met with Sunday --- the 49ers suddenly have no veteran QB.
Or what if Smith re-signs, but his psyche – often bruised during his rollercoaster first six seasons with the team – is punctured by the team’s lack of faith, and he plays with less confidence than he did last season knowing he wasn’t the team’s first option?
Under the first scenario, without Manning or Smith, the 49ers would be left with two second-year quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and Scott Tolzien. Kaepernick, the team’s second-round pick in 2010, is an athletic QB who put up huge numbers at Nevada, but looked raw in last season’s preseason games and got very little playing time during the regular season. Tolzien, a rookie from Wisconsin who was picked up by the 49ers after he was released by the Chargers, is thought to be promising, but has even less experience than Kaepernick.
As San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler noted, the 49ers “probably feel Kaepernick, 24, is a year or two away from being ready for the starting job, but Kaepernick doesn’t feel that way.” Kaepernick tweeted this weekend, wrote Ostler, that he “wasn’t raised to be #2. I’m coming for that #1 spot.”
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes the 49ers could also go after a veteran QB who might be available, but those options are now extremely limited.
As for the second scenario – Smith returns, but isn’t the same QB – it’s certainly a possibility. The Smith-coach Jim Harbaugh relationship last season was one built on mutual trust and admiration. Harbaugh put Smith in position to play well and win, and Smith delivered. Several times in 2011, Smith led fourth-quarter comebacks. His play late in a playoff victory over the Saints was that of an elite NFL QB.
In past seasons, under past coaches, Smith struggled under a constant, rotating stream of bosses and new offensive coordinators while trying to live up to the expectations of the team and fans after he was the first overall selection of the 2005 draft.
Might this offseason of doubt plant the seeds of past misfortunes, erasing all the good that came in the 2011 season?
Of course, we won’t know until we see it unfold.
At least one 49ers follower, however, believes that may not happen. Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat notes that Smith has shown a confidence during this whole process that has made him proactive. Instead of standing idly by to wait what develops with the Manning situation in San Francisco, he’s launched his own quest for a new job.
“With this stalemate, Smith is demonstrating surprising self-confidence,” Cohn wrote. “He’s not going back to the Niners with his tail between his legs. It’s as if he really believes he’s elite, and he wants to be paid what he believes is fair. Good for him.”
But good for the 49ers? We'll soon find out.