The old notion that a player can't lose his job due to injury is used almost exclusively by terrible coaches.
Good coaches play the best players, regardless of how they got their chance. And Alex Smith is no longer the 49ers' best option at quarterback.
The Colin Kaepernick era is in full swing, and there's probably no turning back for San Francisco. Kaepernick has led wins over the Bears and Saints in back-to-back weeks and has played well in those two starts. Sitting and watching has to be quietly eating at Smith.
There aren't many times when it's OK to feel sympathy for a former top overall pick that has made tens of millions of dollars in his career, but this might be one of them.
The 49ers were 19-5 with Smith at quarterback over the last two regular seasons when Smith took a couple of hard shots and was knocked out of San Francisco's game against the Rams two weeks ago. He was fantastic in a playoff win against the Saints last season and had Kyle Williams been a little more careful with the ball against the Giants, Smith probably would have started a Super Bowl for San Francisco.
For years Smith looked like a sure bust as a former No. 1 overall pick, but improved and found a coach in Jim Harbaugh who recognized his strengths and played to them. He isn't an elite quarterback in the league, but he was reliable. Before Smith got hurt, there was no reason to believe San Francisco couldn't contend for an NFC title this season with him at quarterback.
Then he got hurt, and the 49ers were forced to play a younger quarterback who they found out was a more dynamic option. There's little doubt Smith has been supplanted, although he is holding out hope that he'll reclaim his starting job.
"I think I should," Smith told Cam Inman, a 49ers beat writer for the Bay Area News Group. "It's not my decision."
Smith was a professional and didn't say much when the 49ers were obviously interested in signing Peyton Manning this offseason. He wants to keep his starting job now, and it's tough to blame him for feeling that way. He didn't really do anything to lose it.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Smith after this season. He has 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over the last two years. For all his limitations, he'd probably be a huge upgrade for many teams, and he's only 28 years old. The Jets, Chiefs, Jaguars and Cardinals would be instantly better with Smith playing quarterback, to name a few teams. The 49ers are unlikely to keep him past next April 1, because that's when his $7.5 million base salary for 2013 becomes guaranteed. Kaepernick is a 2011 second-round pick and clearly the 49ers quarterback of the future, so it's hard to see the 49ers paying that much to keep around Smith. There should be plenty of interest in Smith around the league, especially with no quarterback prospects on the same level as an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the 2013 draft.
Two weeks ago, Smith was the starting quarterback for one of a handful of teams with realistic championship dreams. Now, Smith can't do much but sit and watch the team he helped lead during its rebirth try to make the Super Bowl with a brand new quarterback.
It will be a long rest of the season for Smith. And then an interesting offseason for him and the 49ers.
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