Harbaugh: Alex Smith is our long-term quarterback


Early in Monday night’s game against the Steelers, Alex Smith missed a number of potential scoring opportunities. He wasn’t playing poorly, but the 49ers could have opened up the lead earlier.

It didn’t wind up mattering and Smith closed out the game strong, but I couldn’t have been the only viewer thinking: What could Jim Harbaugh do with another starting quarterback?

Jim Harbaugh is apparently not having these sort of thoughts. Asked Tuesday about Smith, the 49ers coach said he believes Smith is the 49ers quarterback of the future.

Smith is set to be a free agent after the year. There seems to be little doubt that the 49ers will retain him with an attractive offer.  San Francisco also has Colin Kaepernick on the bench as a developmental prospect.

I don’t want to dismiss what Smith has done this year. He’s improved greatly under Harbaugh, but how much of that is coaching and how much of that is Smith?

It’s at least worth considering what Harbaugh could do with a quarterback that is more talented.

71 responses to “Harbaugh: Alex Smith is our long-term quarterback

  1. Harbaugh has the QB he wants to play the kind of game he wants. Someone who will accept a very tight leash and will avoid turnovers at all costs. Missing an occasional open receiver is not that big a deal in his system, although Smith has gotten better as the season progresses. And don’t forget that nobody had a tougher road than Harbaugh to begin the strike shortened preseason, couldn’t even talk to his players, all new system, etc. Maybe next year he’ll show a more wide open offense, and Smith will have more of an opportunity to shine.

  2. Glad for the guy and Harb2 should be coach of the year. No one else could get this out of Smith or the team in general. Great year they’re having.

  3. Harbaugh is channeling his inner Pete Carroll.

    I don’t buy that he views Alex Smith as a long-term answer for one second.

    He drafted Kaepernick. No one knows Smith’s limitations more than Harbaugh, that’s why he’s disguised him and tried to limit his impact on games. 9ers win with defense and ground game. You should never have to disguise/limit a franchise QB

    Once Kaepernick is ready to take the reins, look out.

  4. It’s at least worth considering what Harbaugh could do with a quarterback that is more talented.
    Gregg, who do you think is more capable of evaluating a QB, you or Harbaugh? Obviously, Harbaugh thinks Smith is quite talented.

  5. It’s at least worth considering what Harbaugh could do with a quarterback that is more talented.
    Gregg, who do you think is more capable of evaluating a QB, you or Harbaugh? Obviously, Harbaugh thinks Smith is quite talented.
    In fact, Smith was drafted 1st overall “because of his talent.”

  6. Alex Smith has the best year of his career and Harbaugh gets all the credit. While it would be nearly impossible to argue that Harbaugh’s coaching of Smith hasn’t certainly lit a new fire, I think Alex deserves some credit, too. So, he didn’t light up the Steelers, per se, but 187 yards, a TD, and no ints against the best passing defense in the league isn’t terrible. People still seem to not consider that the offense was installed on the fly and the games that Alex played less than stellar were games he was running for his life. Its amazing how Tebow gets all the credit for the Broncos resurgence, but Alex can’t seem to get one unanimous pat on the back and ‘Good Job’. And whoever said that Tebow is better prospect, needs to get real.

  7. While Alex Smith isn’t elite by any means, he also isn’t terrible, and I think Harbaugh is just being a realist in this situation. The 49ers won’t have a high draft choice this year and probably won’t in the foreseeable future. Free agent are rarely a sure thing. The last one I can really think of that made a huge difference was Drew Brees to the Saints, but for every Brees there are a lot of Kevin Kolbs and Matt Cassels. And even if someone like Peyton Manning is available, the price will simply be too high for an aging injury prone prospect.

    Because of that the 49ers don’t have many realistic options of picking up a better QB this off-season. Kaepernick may or may not be the future of the franchise but the longer he has to sit and learn the better.

    In the meantime the 49ers can focus on solidifying the offensive line. Over the last month it has demonstrated it is not nearly deep enough. Once there were a few injuries Alex Smith was sacked like nobody’s business and the running game could not get a push in short yardage situations. To illustrate the point, before the Steelers game (which had no sacks partly because the Offensive Line was playing most of it’s starters again) the 49ers had 20 sacks in three games! All those sacks came immediately after starters on the O-line started getting injured and Chilo Rachel had to come in and play on the line again. In the nine games before that the 49ers only had 19 sacks. In other words the sacks almost doubled once they had one injury on the line.

    If the O-line can be solidified and some speed added to the secondary the 49ers look to be a very tough team for the next several years. And right now Alex Smith is probably the best the 49ers can do without giving up other players or draft picks which doesn’t fit with the team philosophy.

  8. It is worth considering what Alex could do with some stability. This is 7th consecutive season with a different coordinator. He should only continue to improve under Harbaugh.

  9. He hasn’t improved greatly at all. He’s cut down on mistakes greatly but his numbers at the end of this season will only be slightly better than his second season. The defense is the difference in this 49er team not Harbaugh’s work with Smith. Smith is simply being a 7 year veteran ready to be a serviceable backup not a long term solution. Vic Fangio’s work with a talent filled defense should get more attention.

  10. What a lot of people fail to realize is that this is YEAR ONE of this offensive system (and no proper offseason)…they probably haven’t even been through the entire playbook yet. Can we please let A.Smith/Harbaugh work in this system for a while longer before we’re ready to toss him aside and insert a new QB? Thanks.

  11. Alex isnt great but hes a vet and will only get better with Harbaigh..Id take Smith over…Sanchez,Tebow,Cassel,Fitzpatrick,Gabbert,Ponder,T Jackson,Kolb,Bradford,Hassleback,Freeman..

  12. Alex Smith is worth no more than 7.5 million. His success at any cap rate would not do, he will very likely fail.

    Fortunately he is smart along with the front office they will get him at a good price and use that extra cap savings on other YAC recievers hopefully d Jackson. He knows better and the league knows too.

    Not hating on the guy but that’s the way it is, if he does not comply any more physically capable qb who learns the play book will do better.

  13. Why is this a surprise to anyone watching Alex Smith this year? He is vastly improved, but he still misses a receiver occasionally, just like every other QB in the league. He’s never going to be a Brady, Rodgers, or Brees. But he isn’t going to throw a bunch of picks like Ben, Vick, Fitzpatrick, Kolb, and on and on. He’s found a great system and coach in Harbaugh, and he’s a part of the reason why the 49ers are playoff bound this year (a smaller part then the improved defense and special teams.)

  14. He is the same type of QB Harbaugh was only smarter. He’ll be good enough, but never great. Low ball him and spend your cap money elsewhere

  15. @cliffordc05

    Interesting point…9ers fans need to give credit to the rest of their division too.

    This week’s game in Seattle is no cupcake. They will put up way more fight than the Steelers, especially at home. The Skittles Beast isn’t going to like what the D has in store for though…

    Both teams are going to be jacked for this one!

    Go 9ers!

  16. It just shows that there is only one stat that matters and thats W/Ls.
    Break it down all you want, Roethlisberger had 321 passing yards,Smith 180,speculate while your at it.(can they go far in the playoffs?,Smith’ll need to throw for 300 yds ) Its Crap!
    The Niners are 11/3
    They know who they are and they dont care if you do or not
    You mighta got a taste last night though

  17. Newsflash: Head coach is diplomatic when discussing possible return of free agent.

    What else is going to say, honestly? Smith has played well enough to be the default starter going into training camp. Unless a significantly better option comes along, or Kaep steps up, Alex is going to be the starter. Harbs isn’t going to say anything to drive him away, especially when his good-though-certainly-not-great play has helped move the team to 11-3.

    Post-season performance should shed more light on how truthful Harbs’ assessment is.

  18. Local radio keeps getting this exact phonecall subject. Who exactly do you think the niners are going to go out and pick up? It’s as if there’s some quarterback tree out there where sure-fire first ballot hall-of-famers grow on, and a team needs only pick them while they’re ripe.

    People: the niners will be a top 2 seed in the NFC. What the hell else do you want? Were the wins not “pretty” enough for you? Does the quarterback have to put up Madden numbers every week to quell some “but-their-QB-rating-is-better-than-my-QB’s-rating” itch? The man is playing winning football. Period. They obviously need to get better in the redzone, but HOLY JEEZ!- let the QB-coach relationship grow for more than 3 months!

  19. I mean you can’t blame Harbaugh for this statement. Alex has taken them to 11-3 so far in year 1 in the system. He will only get better as he gets more experience in this system and then gets a full off-season with Harbaugh.

    2012 Alex Smith will be better than 2011 Alex Smith. This will give Harbaugh plenty of time to groom Kaepernick. Also there is Scott Tolzien too who the Chargers were hoping to stash on the P-Squad when they let him go after the end of the pre-season due to his potential.

  20. If SF goes out early in the playoffs & Smith plays pretty much average ……..

    And season 2012 has SF struggling because Smith can’t carry the team ….. Look for a new headline …..

    “Smith out …. Kaepernick in …” ….. Happens all the time ……

  21. NOOOOOO!!!! why!!!! ??? this guy is an OK QB at best.. i rather develop scott tonzien than this turd!. Don’t get me wrong, Alex is a good person.. but he will never be a SB winning QB. we are doom for misery on offense relying on defense until this guy is gone 🙁

  22. The fact that we are this far into the careers of Alex Smith and Tim Tebow and there’s still significant doubt about whether nor not they can play QB in the NFL is more proof that Urban Meyer’s system kills the pro prospects of those who play in it.

    This is why, after five years of Meyer, UF has no offensive skill position players and why many people refer to Meyer’s offensive scheme as the “kryptonite” offense – it is deadly for the pro prospects of high school studs.

    Good luck OSU.

  23. 2011 Alex Smith = 2000 Trent Dilfer. Not great but effective enough with a solid running game and a VERY good defense.

  24. No Gregg, I don’t think we need to consider this right now. The 49ers were picked to be in the basement this year. Wait, what? Yes, the 49ers that just beat the Steelers, and are 11-3 overall, were predicted to be bringing up the rear.

    But if you insist, I think I could hazard a guess.

    Harbaugh would get lost in a more talented quarterback. What would happen is: Too many throws, frank gore gets too few carries, the 49ers end up being like the ravens…. up and down, up and down. Now at least they are consistent. They had a hiccup against Arizona, big deal. This week they come out and put down 20 on pittsburgh and held big ben to 3 pts, picking him off 3 times.

    I think the 49ers are ok…. and if they do win the Super Bowl, you should send Alex Smith an apology letter.

  25. “It’s at least worth considering what Harbaugh could do with a quarterback that is more talented.”

    There are so many hideous, nightmarish starting quarterbacks in this league I honestly can’t believe you’re even saying this.

    Also who has more potential “talent” than a number 1 overall pick anyway?

    Alex is playing well. Leave it be.

  26. As an outsider, I am a huge ravens fan, and I love the harbaugh brothers, Jim is my coaches brother and he played in my great city, i have always loved and wanted to visit San Fran so I root (secretly) for you guys, and from what I’ve seen this year , Alex smith looks like a very serviceable qb. Look, you don’t need Tom Brady to be 12-4, 13-3….look at your team now, look at the ravens the last 4 years. Flacco is the man, Idc what any body says. The guy WINS!, that’s all we ever want. Jim is uonna have you guys rocking for years to come. And I have full confidense in Alex Smith. Give him some time and some SERIOUS receivers and you’ll own the NFC west for the next 7 years. Good luck guys. Hope we can meet up in the big one one day.

  27. Not hating on Smith, but what if that Manning guy becomes available? Is there a more perfect fit for him? If he’s healthy, I’d certainly be willing to throw a 1st rounder the Colts way for a solid 3 year window to win the championship.

  28. phillybeav says:
    Dec 20, 2011 9:15 PM
    2011 Alex Smith = 2000 Trent Dilfer. Not great but effective enough with a solid running game and a VERY good defense.


    Alex Smith is actually playing quite a bit better then Trent Dilfer did in his Super Bowl year.

    Alex Smith : 239/389 61.4%, 2,752 yards, 16 tds 5 int

    Trent Dilfer: 134/226 59.3% 1502 yards 12 tds 11 int

  29. What else is Coach going to say right now? He’s not going to throw his qb under the bus before the playoffs. He’ll bring in J.Johnson.

  30. some coaches like QB’s that aren’t going to take any credit away from them. As long as 49ers are winning, Harbaugh loves getting the majority of the credit & Alex Smith is a perfectly capable QB. He pulls a Jake Plummer in the playoffs a couple of times & suddenly he won’t be so high on Smith.

  31. Gosh Smith sure looked like Aaron Rodgers in the pre-game interviews–at least with the hat on. Of course, there’s a difference between looking like Rodgers in an interview and looking like him on the field. Did well enough to beat us, though, so no disrespect intended. Helps to have Jim Harbaugh. Guy knows how to run an offense.

  32. I’m not a huge Alex Smith fan, still don’t trust him, and I’d rather him not be the QB of the future, IF there were other options.

    But what are our options this off-season? Kyle Orton? Jason Campbell? No thanks.

    He’s played well enough this year to return and see what he can do in a full off-season under Harbaugh. I hope it’s a “short” long term extension though. I don’t need to see Alex locked up in a 6 year extension or anything like that.

  33. phillybeav. I hear that comparison made a lot,
    but when u look at the stats…
    Dilfer 12 TD, 11 int, 76.6 rating
    Smith 16 TD, 5 int, 91.1 rating
    Alex is a much better QB than Dilfer who threw at least one pick in every regular season game. In the playoffs Trent completed 47.9 % of his passes but he only turned the ball over once. Everyone says what u r saying but I’m not sure the two are equal.
    I sure hope the 49ers season ends with the same result though.

  34. I really like Alex as a person, and he is improving as a player now that he has a real coach. That said, please Jim at least leave the door cracked for an elite QB or prospect

  35. @cuda1234

    “Good luck OSU.”

    Yeah, OSU is going to have to start settling for championships instead of all those pro QB prospects they were churning out.

  36. you know everybody wants to bash on Smith, but if you compare his stats to Aikman’s during the 93-95 seasons when the cowboys were going to the super bowl they are very similar.Historically 300 yards a game doesn’t win super bowl. Defense, running the ball, and not turning the ball over wins. 7 of the last 10 super bowls have been won by quarterbacks that were in the 230 per game and below range.
    2008 206.3
    2007 208.5
    2005 198.8
    2004 230.8
    2003 226.3
    2002 197
    2001 189.5

  37. Smith has had 7 OCs in 7 Season, playing in 7 different offensive systems.

    The only other time that Smith where playing this well was when Norv Turner was the OC in San Francisco.

    I’m confident that the best of Smith still is best to come, the best way to max out a QB’s potential is consistency in the coachingstaff

  38. If he had one more year on his deal we would know if Alex was for real or not, but he’s a free agent after this one. If they win the SB, its still not an automatic that you want to pay Alex Smith to be your guy. On the other hand, the 49ers are ready to go now, and do you want to “start over” with a new QB and by the time that new QB is ready, the rest of the team might have passed their peak. Sound familiar San Diego?

    Just like the Colts, the 49ers do not have an easy QB decision this offseason. Or maybe you kill 2 birds and trade Alex Smith to the Colts for Peyton Manning?

  39. While I’m not saying that Alex Smith would of had stats like Aaron Rodgers had the draft tables turned one wonders if the 49ers drafter Rodgers and he played for Nolan and Singletary would he have succeeded.

    When drafted in 2005, Nolan was the coach and Mike McCarthy was the OC. McCarthy went to Green Bay in 2006 and had Farve as his QB. In 2008 Rodgers went 6-10 with a QB rating of 93.8. 4 years later with the same head coach and the same OC (Joe Philbin) Rodgers is 13-1 with a QB rating of 120.8.

    A head coach who actually knows whats he’s doing makes a world of difference.

  40. By “long term” lets hope Harbaugh meant 2-3 yrs & no more than 7-8 mil/yr. While Alex has cut down on turnovers under Harbaugh, his twice-separated right shoulder has permanently lost accuracy on deep throws so there is no vertical game with him at QB. Rookie Kapernick has a much better arm than Alex and Scott Tolzien has very good poise & accuracy.

  41. Harbaugh says Alex Smith is the 49ers QB of the future.

    Just like former QBs Aikman and Young, Harbaugh suffered a lot of concussions in his career.

  42. Please stop using the Steelers game as any type of measuring stick. The 9ers picked off a one legged Rapelithsbuger who couldn’t put any strength in to a pass. Yes, the 9ers are playing out of their minds but they wont be doing anything this post season. Green Bay or the Saints will stop any momentum that once existed.

  43. anyone ever consider the improvement could be due to smith finally having a good head coach..someone who plays to his strengths..who knows how to use arguably the best athlete in the nfl properly..? one year under harbaugh and their offense has shown marked improvement…give them a proper offseason and another year under this coaching staff…20 bucks says he lives up to or at least near the full potential of his draft selection

  44. @funkylovemonkey

    I am not going to argue Dilfer vs. Smith but please use context. Trent played 11 games during the regular season.

  45. There is a lot worse QBs than Alex Smith out there and Harbaugh got the best out of him.

    For the Kaepernick fangirls who think that he is going to be the next best thing, Kaepernick was not drafted in the 1st round which means there were lots of questions about him. Especially his ability to read defenses.

  46. That is great news for the entire NFC. if the niners had a good QB, they would dominate the nfl. Keep that bum please.

  47. SF may have RZ issues and of course the QB is part of that. But the NYJ have one of the best RZ offenses in the NFL and would anyone trust Sanchez over Smith?

  48. Correction: Harbaugh: “Alex Smith is our long-term quarterback until we’re one and done in the playoffs. Then we will do everything in our power to get a real quarterback.”

  49. I can’t even stand reading 90% of these responses to this article.

    First let’s get the preseason out of the way. Through the first 3 games, everyone was worried and gave a slight edge to Kaepernick over Smith. Smith was the guy everyone boo’d at practice and Kaepernick was the uncertain “project” that Harbaugh traded up to get. And don’t forget that Kaepernick (and Tolzien) didn’t even have a normal camp to get into the swing of things.

    Then we played the Chargers and Smith looked great, Tolzien looked good, and Kaepernick looked bad. That’s ONE PRESEASON game. Look back…did everyone really think we’d be 11-3 after that preseason? Yet at that time everyone was ready to cut Kaepernick and call him a bust, feel better about Smith, and covet Tolzien. The Chargers still cut Tolzien who wasn’t drafted in the first place and who’s coach at Wisconsin, Paul Chryst, is the brother of Geep Chryst….the 49ers QB coach. And he lands on the 49ers! And everyone is excited.

    Now we go into the regular season and Harbaugh is playing with what I would say is the best special teams unit and probably the best defensive unit in the NFL. And suddenly the team starts winning and everyone wants to give the credit to Alex? Huh? Because he isn’t turning the ball over? He’s a 7 year veteran who is now playing in a ball control offense for a coach who calls pass plays that are designed to avoid sacks and go to the first read.

    You’re insane if you think that some of the throws Alex has missed this year are acceptable from a championship caliber QB. And you’re also insane if you accept anything less as your long term solution at QB.

    Harbaugh is great at coach speak. You really think Alex deserves to be in the probowl over Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, or even Cam Newton? He’s playing with the #1 defense and #1 special teams unit in the league! And one of the top RB’s in the league behind him.

    Alex isn’t terrible. He’s not garbage. He’s servicable. He’s Trent Dilfer for the Ravens, who if you remember, won the Superbowl and then was let go for Joe Flacco to start.

    Tolzien has been on the inactive list all year. I assume that’s for a reason. They aren’t just going to roll with Kaepernick as the only back-up while battling for a first round bye if Tolzien has shown to be better than him in practice.

    And Kaepernick has been developing but hasn’t played much. Harbaugh obvisously feels ok with him being the back-up. So that’s a positive sign for a rookie at this point.

    At this point you probably resign Alex to a short term deal and you let him battle it out with Kaepernick again in the summer, determine if Tolzien is staying or going, and go from there.

  50. If it wasn’t for that come back against Philly who knows where the Niners would be. They were down 23-0 and Alex Smith brought them back after his defense put him in a hole. They went on to win because of Smith AND that defense who shut out the Eagles. Non 49er fans don’t know that tho. They just echo what everyone else says

  51. _____
    It’s at least worth considering what Harbaugh could do with a quarterback that is more talented.

    I don’t think we really need to spend much time thinking about the possibilities here when Exhibit A as to what Harbaugh can do with a talented QB will be the #1 pick in the draft next April.

    I think they think Kapernick is a player and will be there future. Harbaugh can bring him along just like Luck who he had redshirt as a Freshman. Alex can serve a useful role while he is winning. At some point he stops performing or get Wally Pipped due to injury.

    For now, I remember how painful Week 16 was to watch as a 49ers fan last year. This year’s situation (trying to pin down a #2 seed in the playoffs) makes me smile too much to worry about whether Smith is the guy or not. He has been way more than good enough.

  52. I really hope Harb’s just saying that to keep Smith’s head right this year. Kap needs more work, but he could be the next Tebow! (zing). Our 3rd QB Scott Tolzien is also a talent. He torched our D in the last pre-season game as a Charger. Chargers cut him and we picked him up immediately. Harb saw his skills first hand.

    Smith has over-achieved this year (and I’m happy about that), but at AZ we saw the real Alex Smith again. I see him backing up Matt Cassel at some point in his future.

  53. qj1984 says:
    Dec 21, 2011 8:30 AM
    Alex Smith is actually playing quite a bit better then Trent Dilfer did in his Super Bowl year.

    Alex Smith : 239/389 61.4%, 2,752 yards, 16 tds 5 int

    Trent Dilfer: 134/226 59.3% 1502 yards 12 tds 11 int


    I am not going to argue Dilfer vs. Smith but please use context. Trent played 11 games during the regular season.


    And Alex Smith has played 14 games so far this season. You’re saying you can’t compare a QB who throws 11 interceptions over 11 games and a QB who throws 5 interceptions over 14? Seems straightforward to me.

    I had no idea that playing three more games made a direct comparison impossible. Maybe if Dilfer had three more games he could have unthrown those six interceptions.

  54. the1849ers says:
    Dec 22, 2011 3:33 PM
    I really hope Harb’s just saying that to keep Smith’s head right this year. Kap needs more work, but he could be the next Tebow! (zing). Our 3rd QB Scott Tolzien is also a talent. He torched our D in the last pre-season game as a Charger. Chargers cut him and we picked him up immediately. Harb saw his skills first hand.

    Smith has over-achieved this year (and I’m happy about that), but at AZ we saw the real Alex Smith again. I see him backing up Matt Cassel at some point in his future.


    Or he had a bad night in Arizona because he wasn’t protected.

    When most QBs who are generally performing well go out and lay an egg in a game, people just chalk it up to a bad night. Maybe the opposing defense already played the team once this season and came up with a few good ways of confusing the QB. Or maybe the Offensive Line was banged up and couldn’t protect the QB or get a push for the running game.

    Not when Alex Smith does it though. He’s just showing his true colors, despite having the best season of his career and having some really great games.

    When Aaron Rodgers goes out and throws for only 49% for only 6.7 yards per completion like the Kansas City game we shrug our shoulders and figure it was an off night. Same with Drew Brees when he throws three interceptions against a pretty bad Tampa Bay team. But Alex Smith is apparently held to a different standard.

  55. Lol alex smith is gonna win a superbowl sometime or another and every analyst and doubter are going to be the laughing stock of the nfl. What happens when ur a little kid and get beat up everyday by your older brothers? You grow up much stronger than them and start paying back those who set you up in a system designed to see you fail.

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