|Harbaugh is excited about bringing Smith back for another season. (Getty Images/US PRESSWIRE)|
By Ryan Wilson
Jim Harbaugh said it over the summer and now, six months later, his story remains unchanged: he wants quarterback Alex Smith back in San Francisco next year. Smith's first six NFL seasons can kindly be described as tumultuous; a mix of ever-changing schemes and coordinators that resulting in inconsistent play and occasional benchings.
But under Harbaugh, Smith has flourished. The first-overall selection in the 2005 draft has benefitted from a quick-pass offense that relies heavily on the running game and a stingy defense. It worked so well that the 49ers went 13-3, won the NFC West going away, and now have a first-round bye.
On Monday, Harbaugh reiterated that Smith was his guy.
"I've told Alex that," Harbaugh said according to CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco. "I wouldn't tell you (the media) something I wouldn't tell Alex.
"I told Alex, 'Hey, we're going to want you to come back here next year.' He's focused on the season, and that's where his mindset wants to be. And I totally respect that, and we'll talk about it and address it once the season is over. That's the way I understand it right now."
It's funny. Over the summer, Smith's NFL future was up in the air. The 49ers could've decided to move on, find a veteran quarterback to bridge the gap to 2011 second-round pick Colin Kaepernick, and turned the page on the Alex Smith era. Instead, Harbaugh kept Smith around, saved his career, and probably made him a lot of money in the process.
We wrote Monday that while the NFL might be a passing league but it's woefully short on passers. Smith isn't Joe Montana (or even Jeff Garcia) but in the right offense he's efficient and doesn't make mistakes. Based on the 2011 49ers, that can carry a team a long way.
And it's why Harbaugh wants Smith back in San Francisco for 2012. Beyond that, who knows. Which is why Smith might want to get while the getting's good, cash in on a lucrative long-term deal and play elsewhere next season. Then again, he owes Harbaugh for saving his career. Maybe loyalty is more important than money.
Either way, these are good problems to have. Usually this time of year we're talking about who should replace the current coach and/or quarterback. Instead the 49ers are preparing to host a playoff game for the first time since the 2002 season.
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