Wednesday, February 27, 2013

49ers Trading QB Alex Smith--Big Mistake

Mistake, mistake, mistake.

No other way to evaluate it. The SF 49ers dumping QB Alex Smith, to the Kansas City Chiefs for two high draft picks, was a bone-headed move that they will regret.

What's going to happen is that new starting QB Colin Kaepernick is going to get hurt next season, forcing the Niners, under some no-name backup, to plummet down the NFC ladder. No doubt in my mind that's the scenario this fall. The 49ers had to make a trade before next month or else they'd have to pay Smith $8.5 million to be a backup, which they clearly thought was way too much. At that salary, he'd be the highest-paid No.2 QB in the league, but he'd provide security at the most important position.

But Kaepernick, a reckless, relentless runner, is bound to go down. League defensive coordinators are, right now, plotting ways to curb his rushing. Last season, he had only ten starts. This season, with more starts, he'll be more likely to take damaging hits. Look at what happened to Washington's R.G. Griffin, another premier rushing QB. He was knocked out of the playoffs, taking his team out with him.

The way Kaepernick runs, the Niners need a top-flight backup waiting in the wings, ready for the inevitable moment when he gets hurt. If Kaepernick had gone down late last season or in the playoffs, Smith could have stepped in with not too much of a drop-off. Yes, the Niners would have had to shelve the read option, the formation geared to QB rushing, and, with Smith, there would have been less of a deep-passing threat. But Smith reads defenses skillfully, throws short and medium-range passes expertly, doesn't make mistakes and is a perfect QB for a team, like the Niners, that likes to run. OK, so the offense, under Smith, is no longer in overdrive, but it's cruising, very efficiently, in second gear, neatly complimenting that strong defense.

For most of his 49ers' career, I wasn't a big Smith fan. But he really blossomed under coach Jim Harbaugh and turned out to be a great fit for that low-key offense, which is all that was necessary for a team defined by its defense.

But there's going to be a hole in the backup QB spot next season. Harbaugh is almost certain to develop some QB into a solid backup, but he's going to need more than one season. It took him two to shape Kaepernick into a gem.

This fall, along with new coach Andy Reid and RB Jamaal Charles, Smith will lead Kansas City to respectability. Meanwhile, without Smith, that backup QB position will be the Niners' undoing.

Count on it.