The weirdest offseason in recent memory for the 49ers just got weirder. If you’re like me, you probably thought you had Baalke figured out. He doesn't go big on the first day of free agency. He hunts around for the bargains and turns them into game changers. Big names aren't his thing.
Enter Randy Moss and the 49ers flirtations with Peyton Manning, and that theory is pretty much null and void. Now it's gotten even more interesting. After Ted Ginn had a personal revelation about his chances of being a number one receiver in the NFL and decided to come back to San Francisco on a one year deal, most felt that the 49ers were done shopping. Not so fast said Baalke, just before he snuck Josh Johnson into the back door of the team's facilities and managed to get him to sign a two year contract with the club.
Well that's awkward...
The log jam of quarterbacks that the 49ers now have may be appealing to their competition-obsessed head coach, but it’s probably not conducive to any of the players' developments - namely one Alexander Smith.
The 49ers now have 4 quarterbacks on the roster - Smith, Johnson, Colin Kaepernick and the oft forgotten Scott Tolzien. To make matters more interesting, Johnson isn't just any old backup quarterback - he's a former Harbaugh protégé out of the University of San Diego. It's the equivalent of Harbaugh renting out a bedroom in his 3-room flat to an ex-girlfriend, possibly making his current girlfriend (Smith) jealous while forcing the long shot (Tolzien) to go sleep on the couch, or maybe even hit Craig's List for some new digs all together. As Bay Area Sports Guy suggests, he may even find it too crowded and send the suddenly supplanted fourth roommate (Kaepernick) packing as well.
This move means only one thing for Alex Smith - the heat is on for him to perform this season. That's not to say that there wasn't an expectation for him to excel anyway, but with Johnson in a quarterback competition with him right out of training camp, preseason just got a little more interesting in the Bay Area.
When it comes to the position of quarterback and 49ers fans, there's always a more desirable option sitting on the bench. Last year was the first in several seasons that there wasn't a fan favorite holding a clipboard for the 49ers; and by “fan favorite” I mean a quarterback not named Smith. For one reason or another, fans never really clamored for Kaepernick to replace Smith at any point in 2011. Perhaps it was because Smith never truly threw up on himself on the playing field last year. Maybe it's because fans finally figured out - by watching Smith fail and a well-groomed Aaron Rodgers succeed - that slow and steady wins the race when it comes to developing a quarterback.
The prior couple years, however, were not so easy on the Smith-fan relationship.
First they called for JT O'Sullivan, the supposed answer at quarterback after one good serving of preseason performances, and they got him. He could throw the deep ball, but his hands were about as suspect as Kyle Williams’s knees, so he fizzled out quickly.
Then they called for Shaun Hill, and again they got their wish. It didn't make it any easier on Smith that Hill was basically Tim Tebow sans the maniacal religiosity. He didn't have the most incredible arm by any stretch of the imagination, but he had enough intangibles to win games for the 49ers, all the way until those intangibles simply weren't enough anymore - though I suspect there are still fans out there who would prefer Hill over Smith.
Then they cried for David Carr simply because he was the “next best” thing. Then it was Troy Smith. And let's not forget the cult pundit of Nate Davis fans - like Ron Paul supporters - who chanted "Start Nate Davis!" on every comment section of every 49ers blog ever in existence.
Now 49ers fans have Josh Johnson in their periphery, a guy that they clamored for even while he was playing for another team. They dream of an Andrew Luck-type presence at the helm, even without ever having seen Johnson take a snap, simply because they know that Harbaugh once coached him. "We want Johnson" will be locked and loaded on the tip of every tongue should Smith go three and out more than once in a game at Candlestick. Yeesh - so fickle.
If this roster move proves anything, it's that the 49ers are even less settled at the position of quarterback than they were 48 hours ago. The idea that the 49ers would ride the Alex Smith train for two more stops before transferring onto the Kaepernick train has now been complicated. Will the Smith train break down, only to have the passengers pile onto to the Johnson express instead? Will any of these three trains even get us to the ultimate destination? Only time will tell, but it wouldn't be Alex Smith's 49ers without a controversy at quarterback. Until he proves his worth, the grass will always be greener by the Gatorade.