Does Alex Smith need a fresh start?

Alex Smith (AP Photo)

Both the Arizona Cardinals and Alex Smith could use a fresh start under center, but it wouldn't come at the expense of John Skelton.

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Both the Arizona Cardinals and Alex Smith could use a fresh start under center.

Smith, who'll be entering his seventh season in the NFL, is a free agent and is open to flee or return to the San Francisco 49ers. During his tumultuous tenure in the Bay Area, Smith has flashed his potential as a former No. 1 overall draft pick but has failed to live up to expectations more often than not.

Unfortunately for Smith, the 49er faithful have all but given up on him. Smith has been constantly ridiculed and although new coach Jim Harbaugh endorsed the idea of him returning to San Francisco, Smith might be ready to wash his hands of the situation.

While Smith's play has been underwhelming, several factors have worked against him. Despite those factors, Smith still managed to be an average quarterback. One can only imagine if Smith had entered the NFL with a more solidified franchise, things might have been different. Smith has been directed by six different offensive coordinators so far in his six-year career and would be working with his third head coach during that time span.

As much as Smith might be searching for new home where he's valued, few teams would appreciate him as much as the Cardinals. The two parties uniting wouldn't be farfetched in the least.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt welcomes intelligent quarterbacks and Smith certainly fits that bill. Smith possesses many of the intangibles to thrive as an NFL quarterback but has been lacking the commitment and confidence from a head coach as well as an organization.

The Cardinals' quarterback play was atrocious in 2010 and Smith would have nowhere to go but up. Expectations would be at an all-time low for a player who was scrutinized on a daily basis in San Francisco.

Arizona has been hesitant to invest heavily in prospective signal callers, and have instead opted for bargain barrel alternatives. There would be plenty of teams lining up to give Smith another chance, but his current salary demands would lean more towards the bargain variety.

The Cardinals hit a home run the first time around with this strategy (see Kurt Warner) but failed miserably with its second attempt (see Derek Anderson). As the top overall pick in the 2005 draft, Smith has already made enough money to last him a lifetime and beyond. Cashing in won't be a priority.

Finally, if Smith does indeed have a vengeance against the 49ers, staying within the NFC West division and facing his former team twice a year would be an excellent selling point for Arizona. That alone could be enough to seal Smith's new fate as a Cardinal in 2011.

Upon further review, Smith hasn't
been that bad in San Francisco
(AP Photo)

As for Smith's abilities and performance, they really haven't been that bad. Particularly when considering the unstable ship the 49ers have been sailing in recent years.

Smith's QB ratings of 81.5 and 82.1 during the 2009 and 2010 campaigns aren't horrible. His touchdown-to-interception ratio during that same time period is 32-22 and he completed 60 percent of his passes. Those numbers would be welcomed in Arizona and would be significant upgrades over the team's output a year ago.

The Cardinals' merry-go-round under center never ceased in 2010. They ran out four different quarterbacks, resulting in a QB rating of 60.5, a completion percentage of 50.8 and a touchdown --to-interception ratio of 10-19.

John Skelton was the lone bright spot of Arizona's trials and tribulations in the passing game last year. Skelton, considered a project as a rookie, displayed adequate poise and provided hope for the future. The addition of Smith wouldn't cannibalize his opportunity.

Should Smith finally develop into the player many believed he would, Skelton would serve as a dependable backup until the team was forced to make a decision between the two. If Smith continues to be an average player, he'll stand as a bridge to the future as Skelton refines his skill set.

Bringing on the services of Smith via the free-agent market also provides a significant advantage. Going this route would allow general manager Rod Graves to hold onto the fifth pick in the draft, with a class full of difference makers at the top.

Plugging in players at linebacker, along the offensive line among other areas of need – rather than trade those draft picks away – stands to be one of the most beneficial outcomes from landing Smith as a free agent.

The likes of Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer would require at least a second-round pick in return and more than likely a first rounder. Selecting Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton or one of the other prospects in the draft would prevent them from acquiring talent to plug other current voids.

Meanwhile, Arizona could find a quarterback and hold onto all of its draft picks, allowing the team to improve at a much faster rate in 2011.

Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at

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