|Tim Heitman/US Presswire|
|In San Francisco, Peyton Manning would inherit an offense that finished 26th in the NFL last season.|
Let's get one thing straight: the San Francisco 49ers were a botched punt return (or two) away from playing in Super Bowl XLVI, not a quarterback away. Alex Smith played well in his first season under new coach Jim Harbaugh.
Here's the reality check, though: Smith is a free agent. So is Peyton Manning. One is being recruited like a blue-chip prospect. And one hasn't even been mentioned as an option for the several teams who need a signal caller.
The rest of the NFL had to get a chill when it was learned Friday that Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman worked out Manning early in the week and are in the hunt to make him San Francisco's quarterback. As scary as the 49ers were, Manning would make them downright frightening.
Though Manning played in a system for years in Indianapolis that he controlled like an X-Box gamer, picturing him with a rugged running game, tight ends who can take over games, a good, young offensive line and a defense that would give him short fields over and over is not something the other 31 teams want to even think about.
There's also wideouts Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss. Think they'd go Diva with Manning in the locker room?
Manning could have career-low passing numbers because of the short fields and the running game. But he could add a second Lombardi Trophy to his mantle and stack another one next to those already won by Hall of Fame predecessors Joe Montana and Steve Young.
The type of team San Francisco has also would allow Manning to play at 80 percent of his old self. The nerve issue, the Candlestick wind, etc., would not be big problems at all.
About the only thing that could be a potential stumbling block is Manning's strong personality not meshing with Harbaugh's. They are both incredible football thinkers and as long as they live in that vacuum, they'd be in sync. They're also strong-willed winners who might not be the Yin to each others' Yang.
Harbaugh is all about the team concept -- 53 players and a coaching staff that have shared equity. There is no superstar in the way he's been raised and the way he's always approached football. Manning would fit into that mold as far as work ethic and personality, but not as far as stature. Manning would outshine everything and everyone, simply by donning the Niners logo on the side of his helmet.
There would be some things to work through, no doubt, but wherever Manning winds up, there will be some obstacles to finesse.
As for Alex Smith's feelings possibly getting hurt by this revelation when the team openly professed its allegiance to him? It's merely another in a line of challenges he's endured since coming to the NFL. Smith is a good player and a pro and he'll deal with this. His agent, Tom Condon, reps Manning as well and Condon will find a way to smooth things out.
Manning to San Francisco would be a major game-changer. The 49ers already looked to be a force but Manning would amplify the threat 10-fold.
One final point: If Peyton was the Niners quarterback and faced his brother Eli in this season's NFC championship Game, would we even be talking about special team's miscues costing San Francisco the shot at the Super Bowl?
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89