And now, the 49ers can pretend they loved Alex Smith all along. Believe as much of that as you like.
Suddenly, Smith has as much leverage as a man who has served as his coachs caddy can have. Which is all a matter-of-fact way of asking, Does Alex still buy the magic springing from Jim Harbaughs tongue?
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The answer is no, unless Smith is a dunce, which he is not. But the alternatives, Miami and Jacksonville, would only represent spite signings, so the real question is not what Smith believes, but what he can endure.
And Smiths greatest skill as a quarterback is also his greatest skill as an intellect. His clinical thought process.
The Dolphins are hopeless. The Jaguars are worse. The Seahawks are not an option. The Titans have shown no apparent interest.
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Which means the marriage of convenience resumes after the 49ers got liquored up and went to Vegas for the weekend to chat up another woman. Now Harbaugh and Smith are joined not by the heart, but by the wallet. Pragmatism, Harbaughs most dynamic quality. Rules the day for both, and the 49ers are no worse off than they were.
No better, either.
The biggest problem with Manning to the 49ers was ultimately the fact that the Broncos had more than twice as much cap room to spend on Manning, and while many folks will hypothesize than it was deference to his brother Eli that drove this decision, they will be wrong. Money talks louder than workouts walk, which should come as no surprise to anyone who pays attention to free agency in any sport.
The 49ers can say they just did their due diligence, and that they were longshots because of the money disparity, and that will be true.
But Smith, who has enough scars to look like the fun house mirror in Chuck Wepners house, gets one more from his third pro head coach. He may become more cynical about his business, but maybe he was already there. He has a way of hiding his true internals.
But he is at his essence a triangulator. He has already figured out that where he came from is the best place for him to be, and if he can squeeze more money out of the 49ers for the time and trouble he went through, all the better for him.
Oh, there is also the minimal possibility that Harbaugh and Smith were in on this from the start, and they may even portray this as such. But the fact is, to the extent that Smith was Harbaughs acolyte in 2011, that is no more. The support he finally found after six years of Mike Nolans neglect and Mike Singletarys non-inspirational speeches is revealed to be just one more song and dance in what will be an ongoing series of them.
It means that Patrick Willis now knows what awaits him when his time comes. He is the best 49er there is today, but today gets to yesterday very quickly, and Harbaugh has shown himself to be your standard bloodless head coachgeneral manager.
Or, to be more precise, he has behaved as any head coachgeneral manager would behave in the National Football League, and this last week was an excellent education for those who still view the NFL as a place where loyalty matters, is celebrated and rewarded.
It isnt. It isnt going to be. If Peyton Manning can be shown the door to save 28 million, what chance would any other player have? Well wait patiently while you arrive at the answer, None.
Oh, and Harbaugh needs a new caddy.