Why 49ers make sense for Alex Smith

New San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has repeatedly offered praise for quarterback Alex Smith.

The two have met several times, leaving the rest of us to focus on whether bringing back Smith could make sense for the 49ers heading into an uncertain offseason. We've spent less energy discussing whether returning to the 49ers would make sense for Smith.

Getting a fresh start in a new place could help Smith shake the expectations that arguably dragged him down as the first player chosen in the 2005 NFL draft. But the grass is not always greener someplace else and there's a decent chance San Francisco could stand as Smith's best option, as I noted in response to a New Zealand-based 49ers fan, Mike, during a recent Facebook exchange.

Smith might be unlikely to find another situation featuring:

  • A sharp offensive-minded head coach. Smith's previous head coaches, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, had defensive backgrounds. Both had their strengths, but neither handled quarterback situations very well. Smith questioned Nolan's motives and raised concerns about Singletary's demeanor during games. Harbaugh understands NFL quarterbacks. He was one, after all.

  • Players Smith knows and likes. Vernon Davis and others have consistently backed Smith. Smith has friends on the team.

  • Enough talent on the roster to be competitive. The 49ers are starting over from a coaching standpoint, but they have more talent than the typical rebuilding team. They opened the 2010 season with the youngest starting offense in the league, a unit featuring multiple recent first-round draft choices (Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Smith).

  • A division as unsettled as the NFC West. The 49ers were 6-10 last season and still finished only one game out of first place.

  • An unsettled quarterback situation. If Smith signed right now, he would be the best quarterback on the roster and the favorite to start. There's no guarantee the 49ers will land a player clearly more talented before the regular season.

Smith will have to consider options elsewhere, of course, and the 49ers will look to upgrade. But these specific criteria could, in the end, trump the overriding notion that a fresh start would be best no matter what.