While some 49ers fans might cringe at the thought of Smith returning after six seasons in which the former No. 1 overall pick has failed to establish much, the move makes sense for both sides.
For Smith, this could be his best shot at starting again. There really aren't many teams other than the 49ers clamoring for his services. Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Marc Bulger, Kyle Orton, Vince Young, and maybe Carson Palmer -- depending on what happens in Cincinnati -- probably rank higher than Smith in pecking order.
With the lockout keeping rookie and quarterback of the future Colin Kaepernick from much-needed coaching, having a veteran familiar with the roster and who's had game experience could be Harbaugh's best shot at keeping the 49ers competitive in the wide-open NFC West. It also would give Kaepernick time to develop.
There's also the business side of retaining Smith, which, in the long run, could be the main impetus of bringing him back. San Francisco could/should sign Smith to a financially palatable two-year deal. Why two years? By extending Kolb last season and keeping him under contract through 2011, the Eagles likely will acquire a first-round draft pick in a trade before this season because several teams think Kolb is a viable starter.
If Smith earns the starting job and plays well, he could ramp up his trade value. The 49ers also could have Smith on the hook for a relatively low price for one more season should he play well and they opt to hang on to him. Should Smith falter, letting him go won't be financially prohibitive, plus his replacement is already in house.
Don't rule out the idea of San Francisco attempting to acquire a veteran quarterback, even if Smith is re-signed. Making a move for Palmer or McNabb would probably instill immediate confidence in the current players. Having a legitimate competition for the starting job could also bring out the best in everyone -- especially Smith.