When Alex Smith restructured his contract Tuesday, there was a loud poofing noise that occurred at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara.
It wasn’t the normal poof that occurs when you lose an idea, a dream or some really cool visual. On Tuesday, the poof in Santa Clara was the vanishing sense of a huge financial obligation once bestowed upon the 2005 No. 1 draft pick.
In many ways, the poof was the relief the 49ers had always desired from an overpaid bust. Smith was due nearly $10 million this year. That’s just unacceptable for a likely benchwarmer. But it was also the beginning of a very tough conversation the red and gold will have to have: What next? And even more precisely, who is next?
The recent addition of Damon Huard (50-of-81 for 477 yards passing in five games in 2008) doesn’t make this 49ers fan feel like the quarterback issue is solved. Nor does the idea of a new quarterback competition, a la 2008, in which Shaun Hill (7-3 as a 49ers starter) is challenged by Smith, of all people, make me feel as if something is being accomplished. It all looks like musical chairs.
The one thing general manager Scot McCloughan should think about going forward, with Mike Singletary at his side, is what will his long-term quarterback plan look like. Not just the every-year shuffle of “who is the next fix,” but who can be drafted, secured and/or stolen that management and players alike will want to build around.
Who, I say? Who?
The fruition of the 49ers’ plans will not begin to take shape until we have seen the first draft by McCloughan and Singletary. If memory serves me correctly, the last draft was non-sensical and totally devoid of the 49ers’ most prominent needs, a quarterback or receiver in the first round. That means first-round caliber. That means talented.
Maybe one will fix the other. Maybe the 49ers are banking on their latest wideout addition, Brandon Jones, to fill some invisible gap.
Maybe they don’t have a plan.
The obvious observation is that the plan was nonexistent up until negotiations began with Smith. The fact that he’s bought into this now yearly charade of competition is absurd. He needs to find the bottom of the depth chart and quietly disappear.
To note that there is quarterback competition reveals how flawed the plan is in its infancy. But again, this all can go down the toilet with one stellar pick at the No. 10 spot April 25. (Mark Sanchez more than likely will be available. Just do it. Just. Do. It.)
More than anything else, they need to find the one guy everybody will love and groom him like he’s the prince getting ready for the throne. Let Hill be the caretaker of the quarterback duties until he’s ready and let Smith date the clipboard. But no matter what the 49ers do, they have to formulate a winning plan and stick with it.
The last thing Singletary needs is to define his reign by Hill or some other toss away quarterback.
This column originally appeared in The Union.