If the worst-case scenario plays out for the 49ers, and Alex Smith signs elsewhere while they also lose the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, they’ll be facing a dilemma: What does a team do when it has Super Bowl talent but doesn’t have a quarterback?
For the 49ers, the answer may be they sign free agent Josh Johnson, and have him compete in training camp with last year’s second-round pick, Colin Kaepernick.
Johnson, a free agent who has played his entire four-year career in Tampa Bay, played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. He’s a phenomenal athlete but hasn’t proven he can be an NFL passer, with just five touchdown passes and ten interceptions in his career. However, Harbaugh may be able to cut way down on those interceptions by turning Johnson into a safe and careful passer, as Harbaugh did with Smith last season, and Peter King writes today that Johnson in San Francisco is a real possibility if both Manning and Smith end up elsewhere.
The 49ers liked Kaepernick enough last year to take him with the 36th overall pick in the NFL draft, and Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle writes today that the starting job may end up falling into Kaepernick’s lap.
Johnson and Kaepernick are a couple of young, talented quarterbacks the 49ers like, and there are worse things than going into training camp with a couple of young, talented quarterbacks you like. But the 49ers want to win now, not build for the future. So if the 49ers end up signing neither Manning nor Smith and only signing Johnson, it would be hard not to view that as a failure.
The 49ers, however, don’t hold all the cards here. And if Manning and Smith decide to go elsewhere, Johnson and Kaepernick may be the best the 49ers can do.