ap file photoMost improved? Alex Smith has progressed leaps and bounds this year. Before that

ap file photoMost improved? Alex Smith has progressed leaps and bounds this year. Before that

Alex Smith riding the longest, hardest road to success

As a professional, nothing has come easily for Alex Smith. And that could finally be a good thing.  

Since being the first pick of the 2005 NFL Draft, Smith has had to travel the hard road through every turn — a pair of overmatched head coaches, seven offensive coordinators in seven years, playing for a franchise struggling to regain the momentum of past glory.

Breaks simply haven’t broken in favor of Smith, who should have earned far more this season now that he’s proven he can successfully quarterback a good NFL team.

In any other year, Smith would be inundated with accolades, considered a shoo-in for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. Not Smith, whose success has been swallowed by the mania surrounding Denver’s Tim Tebow.

The Pro Bowl would be at least a consideration for the much-improved quarterback of a division championship team — coach Jim Harbaugh has already begun campaigning. Not for Smith, who plays in the same conference as the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, and has had to listen to accolade after accolade pour over Eli Manning and Tony Romo when they’ve won this season.   

With the 49ers awaiting the postseason, Smith has had to forget as much as he’s had to learn under Harbaugh. He’s endured as much criticism as a professional athlete should ever have to, and was not a welcome addition to the Niners’ roster this past offseason.

Smith’s success this season has won over the once-reluctant 49ers Faithful, and should cinch a lucrative, long-term commitment from the 49ers. But that may not be the case for Smith, as the Niners already have their quarterback-of-the-future in Colin Kaepernick. At least that was the plan back in April.

Nobody expects the 49ers to not come to terms on a deal with Smith, but any break-the-bank talk figures to be quickly countered.

And finally, the kind of a season Smith has enjoyed would hear talk of Smith becoming an attractive free agent.

Not for Smith, who hits free agency the same year as Brees (who figures to be a lock to return to New Orleans) during an offseason in which the Indianapolis Colts could cut Hall of Famer-to-be Peyton Manning into the free-agent waters.

In another year, a quarterback coming off the year Smith is having would be fawned over by every NFL franchise in need of a win-right-away quarterback. Not.

Smith, who has never once been mentioned in connection with Tennessee, Washington, Seattle and Minnesota, any of which could easily fit that description by year’s end.

Nothing has come easily for Smith, who — come to think of it — should be perfectly prepared for the adversity that should be expected during the ruggled postseason awaiting the 49ers.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

NEXT GAME

49ers vs. Rams

WHEN: Jan. 1, 10 a.m.

WHERE: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

TV: FOX (KTVU, Ch. 2)

RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)

 

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