Alex Smith, Carson Palmer & Donovan McNabb. Three Veterans heading in very different directions

As a Niners fan who only converted to the sport in 2004, I’ve grown accustomed to grand pre-season expectations giving way to disappointing and demoralising regular season appearances and calls for the quarterback’s head.

Alex Smith arrived at San Francisco as the number one overall pick in 2005. In that time he has shown rare, infrequent flashes of quality and more frequent examples of poor decision making, inaccuracy and defeatism. For any team this would be unacceptable but for a side with Joe Montana and Steve Young amongst their former starters this was intolerable. The boo boys, who have been out in force from virtually Smith’s first snap, looked to have got their way when Mike Singletary’s failed experiment with rotating Smith’s Alex and Troy failed at the end of last season. Singletary, Troy and Alex all left the 49ers in 2010 and a new start was forecast under Jim Harbaugh.  However, Harbaugh bought Smith back to the Niners and he led them through the lockout. Many looked on Smith as a short term plug for a long-term hole, with Kaepernick spending time to learn Harbaugh’s game plan and move the Niners forward.

However, after a 5-1 start Smith may have done enough to be considered the franchise quarterback. His passing yardage may be unspectacular but few quarterbacks can claim just two picks after six games and a quarterback rating in excess of 95. Yes, the 49ers rely heavily on the run game and the defence, yes, Smith has fumbled rather too much in the early season but the facts stand; Smith has become a game manager.

Harbaugh made him sing for his food one final time, but even the former Stanford coach couldn’t have expected the virtuoso performances he’s put together. If you want a yardstick of progress, look no further than the fans, in preseason they were calling for Kapernick or anyone else who could play at quarterback other than Smith, now they cheer his name. If Smith can reduce the fumble count and keep managing the offence well, there is very little reason to see why Smith can’t nail down the starting job in San Francisco for the foreseeable future.

Elsewhere in the NFL conversation is dominated by trades and quarterbacks nowhere more so than in the back offices of the Raiders and Bengals. Carson Palmer finally secured a route out of Cincinnati after Oakland chose Palmer to fill the void left by Jason Campbell’s season ending injury. In Palmer the Raiders have a quarterback who should guide them to the playoffs; he is accurate with a big arm, though not as mobile as Campbell. However, the long term beneficiaries appear to be the Bengals who have a quality rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton to pin their franchise on, a winning record and an additional four picks in the next two NFL drafts. If the Bengals continue to pick quality collegiate talent they will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings have also decided to show faith in youth after a season and a bit of watching veteran quarterbacks flounder under centre. Donovan McNabb has slipped down the depth chart in favour of first round draft pick Christian Ponder. McNabb’s inability to run the offence for more than a half has made this an inevitability. With the Vikings at 1-5 it’s time to roll the dice and build for the future. As a consequence McNabb’s time as a starting NFL quarterback appears to have reached a conclusion.

You can’t have a conversation these days about quarterback’s in the NFL without talking about Tim Tebow. His heroics in the near defeat to the Chargers earned Tebow a shot at the starting job in Denver. With Orton failing to excite the fans or ignite the offence the two time BCS National champion was always going to get a chance to salvage the Broncos’ season. Having said that I do feel for Brady Quinn who was ahead of Tebow in the depth chart, he might have one out in training camp but faced with Tebowmania he was a distant third in the Denver popularity contest.

Finally, Brandon Lloyd has completed his move from Denver to St Louis for a 6th round pick in the 2012 draft, that will become a fifth round selection if Lloyd catches 30 or more passes this season.


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