Jed York played coy when asked Tuesday about Alex Smith’s future as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. “My sense is Jim [Harbaugh] and Trent [Baalke, general manager] are going to figure out what’s best for the team and I’m going to support them 100 percent.” The team president added, “I’ve said all along we would love to have him back.”
Fair enough. Given the new coaching staff’s limited time to prepare for the season, it’s entirely understandable the 49ers keeping Smith, who ESPN.com reported has agreed to a 1-year, $5 million deal.
But expecting Smith to suddenly morph into a playoff-caliber quarterback is a leap of faith the organization can’t afford to make. It’s equally unrealistic to expect Colin Kaepernick to be ready to lead the team in his rookie season that already started late and missed the usual minicamps and OTA’s.
So which veteran passer do the 49ers go after to push or supplant Smith? On ESPN this week, Steve Young said the Niners are likely to sign free-agent Matt Hasselbeck. Yikes. Unfortunately, due to multiple concussions and back injuries, the three-time Pro Bowler is nowhere near the player he was when guiding the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2006.
In fact, over the past three seasons Hasselbeck is the NFL’s lowest-rated quarterback among the 19 who have started at least 35 games, with 44 interceptions and only 34 touchdown passes. Of course, the obvious attraction to Hasselbeck, who turns 36 in September, is his toughness and familiarity with the West Coast offense.
But there are better options available if the 49ers pay the price. The Philadelphia Eagles are reportedly willing to part with Kevin Kolb for a second- and fourth-round draft pick. If, as expected, Kolb is traded to the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers would not only miss out on acquiring one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league, they would have to face him twice a season as a rival in the NFC West.
The Denver Broncos aren’t asking as much for Kyle Orton, and he too has a bigger upside than Hasselbeck.
Although not blessed with great athleticism or a strong arm, the 28-year-old Orton is smart, resourceful and owns an impressive piece of NFL history, having hooked up with wide receiver Brandon Marshall a record 21 times in a game at Indianapolis in 2009.
The most intriguing candidate soon to hit the open market is Donovan McNabb, who is scheduled to earn a $10 million bonus if he’s on the Washington Redskins’ opening day roster. After falling out of favor with coach Mike Shanahan and son Kyle, the team’s offensive coordinator, last year, McNabb gained weight and lost his job. Now, after a vigorous offseason workout regimen, the six-time Pro Bowler is said to be in great shape and appears to be a man on a mission. A Smith-Hasselbeck QB tandem in The City sounds more like mission impossible.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.