San Francisco 49ers  

 

Niners' QB dilemma sums up costly miss on No. 1 overall pick

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Here is what's left in the wake of the San Francisco 49ers drafting Alex Smith No. 1 overall in 2005: Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary have been fired as head coaches; Smith will be a free agent once the business of football is back up and running, and the 49ers have compiled a record of 37-59 without a single winning season.

To boot, the quarterback they could have drafted, Aaron Rodgers, just led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl championship.

In a nutshell, that's what it means to miss on a franchise quarterback.

Smith is hardly to blame for everything. He has missed a lot of games, had an offensive coordinator change every year and hasn't always worked with optimal talent. But now the 49ers are back at square one, searching for a franchise QB.

Here's a harsh reality of the NFL draft: Some teams wish they could just go back in time for a second chance. This week, former personnel
executives Pat Kirwan and Michael Lombardi rewrite the drafts from 2004 to 2008.

2004: Kirwan: Shakeup among famed QB trio
2005: Lombardi: Right pick was in 49ers' backyard
2006: Kirwan: Famed trio highlights busts
2007: Lombardi: Reflecting on Raiders' failure
2008: Kirwan: Dolphins missed out on franchise QB

The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday that the 49ers offered Smith a one-year deal before the lockout that he didn't sign, but even if he did, that's not what anyone would consider a contract of confidence.

So Smith, 26, joins Vince Young and Matt Leinart as young quarterbacks looking for a second chance in the job market, where they'll be overshadowed by Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton, Matt Hasselbeck, maybe Carson Palmer, and maybe even Marc Bulger.

Someone will give Smith a chance, and maybe he'll come back to San Francisco. Most likely, he'll join a team initially as a transitional quarterback like Byron Leftwich was for Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay. If Smith gets into the right system, he could find his way.

The 49ers, meanwhile, must find a quarterback. There is too much talent in the cupboard to continue being held back by inconsistency at that position. Whether they go the rookie route or with a veteran -- or more likely, both -- they have a new coach, Jim Harbaugh, who knows how to work with QBs. The former NFL quarterback turned Josh Johnson (Tampa Bay) into an NFL prospect while at the University of San Diego, and his last pupil, Stanford's Andrew Luck, would have been the slam-dunk No. 1 overall pick had he entered the draft this season.

It would be hard to think that San Francisco won't delve into the market of veteran QBs once it has the chance -- especially if it can't convince Bengals owner Mike Brown to move off Palmer. The 49ers don't need a great quarterback, but if they were able to acquire a veteran to match with some of that unbridled, exceptional talent, the team could finally live up to expectations.

It's also likely that the 49ers will come out of the draft with a quarterback. While Auburn's Cam Newton is expected to be selected first overall, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert could unexpectedly fall to San Francisco at No. 7. It would seem like the 49ers would snatch him in a second.

What's intriguing is if San Francisco doesn't land its QB in the first round, it doesn't choose again until No. 45 in the second round, which might be too far back to grab someone like Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett or Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers might have to trade up for a young quarterback, and there will be a fair share of teams at the back end of the first round willing to move.

Of course, all this potential maneuvering might not have been needed if Smith panned out. This, again, is why missing with the first overall pick at quarterback can cause years of problems.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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