49ers review: Quarterbacks

665904.jpg

49ers review: Quarterbacks

This is the final installment of a nine-part series that reviews every 49ers player and position group.The 49ers' passing game was efficient, but it certainly was not prolific. There were 121 times during the NFL regular season in which a quarterback threw for 300 yards or more. The 49ers were not represented on that list. Alex Smith threw topped 250 yards passing only three times with a regular-season high of 291 yards in a Week 4 win at Philadelphia. The 49ers ranked 29th in the NFL in yards passing. But Smith was ninth in the league in passer rating, largely because he threw fewer interceptions than any of the 33 quarterbacks who qualified by attempting 14 passes per game. The 49ers did not perform well on third downs and in the red zone. Grade: B-
Alex Smith -- There were two things Smith did exceptionally well in 2011: He avoided turnovers and he played great when his team had its back against the wall. Only Aaron Rodgers had fewer turnovers at the quarterback position than Smith this season. Rodgers threw six interceptions and did not lose a fumble; Smith had five interceptions and lost two fumbles. Smith finished the regular season with 159 passing attempts without an interception. That ranks No. 2 all-time for the 49ers, behind Steve Young's 183 consecutive attempts without getting picked off in 1993. Smith attempted another 68 passes in the two playoff games without an interception, too. Smith helped rally the 49ers to six fourth-quarter comeback victories, including the playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints. That was Smith's finest game, as he threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns. He even rushed for a 28-yard score that gave the 49ers a brief lead late in the fourth quarter before the Saints took the lead again. Perhaps the biggest knock on Smith is that he is reluctant to throw the ball unless he sees a receiver wide open. That's part of the reason he was so good about avoiding interceptions. Ironically, he demonstrated he can do it on the most-important play of the season. Smith made up his mind to throw the ball well before his target broke into the clear with the 49ers down by three points in the closing seconds against the Saints. Tight end Vernon Davis was on the opposite side of Saints linebacker Scott Shanle when Smith started his throwing motion. As the ball was in the air, Davis cleared Shanle and the perfectly thrown pass arrived at Davis just a split-second before safety Roman Harper greeted Davis at the goal line. Smith came through for the game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass with :09 remaining. The next week, Smith made a couple nice passes on deep balls to Davis for touchdowns against the Giants. But he missed a potential big-gainer when he did not pull the trigger on a pass to tight end Delanie Walker on a wheel route along the left sideline early in the third quarter. For the most part, Smith did not make his receivers or offensive line better. He did not "throw open receivers" with regularity. And he often held the ball too long and took unnecessary sacks. Smith was sacked 44 times. He could've avoided a good number of those sacks. On Tuesday, Smith said on "Chronicle Live" that in the coming weeks he will analyze where he needs to get better and be honest with himself. That's where I see Smith can get better -- a lot better. Perhaps with a full offseason to fully comprehend the offense, Smith will have a greater understanding of the angles he can exploit against certain defenses to get rid of the ball quicker and allow his receivers to make more plays.RELATED: Alex Smith game logs
Colin Kaepernick -- When asked late in the season how Kaepernick was progressing, one team source said, "I think pretty well. But we won't really know until we see him in a game." Kaepernick completed 3 of 3 passes for 35 yards in mopup time of a Week 5 blowout of Tampa Bay. He misfired on both passes in the fourth quarter of a decisive December victory over St. Louis. But the 49ers still don't know, exactly, what they have in Kaepernick. The 49ers traded up to select him in the second round of last year's draft. Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke like his arm and athleticism. There's no denying that Kaepernick has a cannon for an arm. As one defensive player said it, however, he needs to adjust his arm action to provide better touch on short passes. He also probably needs to tighten up his throwing motion. Kaepernick is not satisfied to carry a clipboard as the backup, and that's a good thing. Harbaugh has said the quarterback position is not an anointed position. If there is a point in which Harbaugh believes Kaepernick gives the 49ers their best chance to win games, then a switch would be made. But Kaepernick has a long way to go. Smith has earned the trust of Harbaugh, and it'll be difficult for Kaepernick to compete with that. He must have a good offseason in the classroom to even put himself in that conversation.Scott Tolzien -- The 49ers opted to claim Tolzien off waivers from the San Diego Chargers to serve as the No. 3 quarterback, rather than devote that position to a veteran, such as Josh McCown, who was among the final cuts. The 49ers know that Tolzien is going to give them a full day of work. He was a diligent worker during his four months with the 49ers. He rarely took any snaps in the 49ers' offense during practices his rookie season, and he saw limited reps with the scout team. He'll get a full offseason to attempt to convince the 49ers that he is worth keeping around.

49ers extend one-year qualifying offers to Purcell, Bradford

49ers extend one-year qualifying offers to Purcell, Bradford

The 49ers on Monday extended one-year qualifying offers to nose tackle Mike Purcell and linebacker Carl Bradford as exclusive-rights free agents.

Purcell appeared in 15 games last season. He started the first five games of the season at nose tackle and was a reserve for the remainder of the season. Originally signed in 2013 as an undrafted rookie from Wyoming, Purcell has appeared in 25 games over the past three seasons.

The 49ers claimed Bradford off waivers in December from the Green Bay Packers. He appeared in the final two games of the season with the 49ers and was credited with two tackles.

Bradford entered the NFL out of Arizona State as a fourth-round pick of the Packers in 2014. After being inactive for every game as a rookie, Bradford was among Green Bay’s final cuts in 2015. He spent the season on the practice squad.

He appeared in four games for the Packers last year. The 49ers claimed him after he was waived in December.

Exclusive rights free agents are player who have fewer than three years of NFL service who have no outside negotiating power if a team extends a qualifying offer.

Mailbag: Which 49ers vets are on shaky ground?

Mailbag: Which 49ers vets are on shaky ground?

The 49ers’ new regime heads to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week with the first major wave of offseason activity set to kick off.

Already, the 49ers have made roster improvements. And there figure to be plenty of activity ahead in the coming weeks.

Here are some questions submitted by readers on Facebook for this edition of 49ers Mailbag:

Do you see the 49ers cutting ties with larger contracts like Bethea, Torrey Smith and Ahmad Brooks?‬ (Blair Wilkins)
The 49ers have approximately $75 million in space under the salary cap – and that’s before any adjustment of Colin Kaepernick’s contract. So it’s not as if the organization needs to create cap room.

Any decision made to part ways with veteran players will be made solely on how that player fits into what the 49ers envision on the field.

And that’s what general manager John Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff are doing now. They are studying the video from last season to determine which players fit their ideals.

Safety Antoine Bethea is scheduled to earn $5.75 million. Bethea, 32, enters the final year of his contract. There is no question he is everything the 49ers want in a player off the field. If one of the younger guys is not better than Bethea, there is no reason to get rid of him.

Brooks is on the books to earn $5.3 million in 2017. That’s not a huge amount for a starting outside linebacker or defensive end – whichever spot he might fit best. The 49ers must look to upgrade their pass rush. Brooks turns 33 next month. He’s good for six sacks a season. Again, it’s not as if the 49ers can’t afford him. And, as of now, it’s not as if the 49ers have anyone better.

Smith is scheduled to earn $8 million. He has been vastly underutilized in his two seasons since signing with the 49ers. He’s the most interesting case of the high-priced veterans.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense is predicated on using the running game to set up the play-action shot down the field. Smith is limited. He’s not a possession receiver. He’s not going to make plays over the middle. He is an outside receiver whose contributions come in the vertical passing game. But that’s what Shanahan wants.

If Smith is paired with a strong tight end, a running back who catch the ball out of the backfield, a slot receiver with short-area quickness to get open underneath, a very good receiver on the other side and an accurate quarterback who can throw the deep ball, there should be a role for Smith in the 49ers’ offense.

Will the 49ers continue to be aggressive pursuing free agents this offseason? If so, what positions?‬ (Bradley Lodge)
The 49ers have zeroed in on two veteran free agents and they signed them both.

The organization has already spent more money than it did all of last offseason on veteran free agency with the four-year, $16 million deal to sign defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, whom the Miami Dolphins recently released.

Nickel back K’Waun Williams has a history with 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley. The 49ers did not have to make much of a financial investment to sign him.

The 49ers will definitely go after a veteran quarterback or two in free agency or via trade. Pass rusher, inside linebacker and wide receiver are other positions the 49ers can be expected to look during free agency.

The opening of the new league year – when free-agent signings and trades can occur – is March 9. The draft is seven weeks later.

The 49ers must fill as many of their needs with smart deals that fit into the long-term plan with veteran acquisitions. Then, the draft is about taking the best players on their board when it’s time to select. Teams that reach for need generally strike out.

What are the chances of drafting a QB with first pick and playing them behind a Kap / Cousins until they're ready to become starter?‬ (Hillory Broussard)
If Colin Kaepernick returns, it will not be as a no-questions-asked starter. Just read what Lynch said on KNBR this week about the team’s needs:

“Do we have some places – probably the ultimate position, quarterback – where we need to improve? Absolutely. And we’re committed to doing that.”

That statement can easily be interpreted that Lynch does not believe the 49ers had a starting-caliber quarterback on the roster last season.

But if the 49ers were to go out and swing a trade for Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s going to take a big commitment – in terms of draft picks and a suitable new contract. Then, the 49ers would have that player.

Cousins or Garoppolo would unquestionably fill the 49ers’ need at quarterback for 2017 and beyond -- at least in the minds of the 49ers' new decision-makers. There would be no reason for the 49ers to then draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick – if the 49ers even had the No. 2 overall pick at that point.