Harbaugh is still a fan of Alex Smith

Alex Smith's last game with the 49ers might not have been his final appearance for the team. Coach Jim Harbaugh likes him and sounds open to a return for Smith, who will be a free agent.

The day after the San Francisco 49ers played their last game of the season, quarterback Alex Smith emptied his locker of his personal possessions and left, presumably for good.

But he apparently didn't close the door on his way out. It's still open.

Although 49ers GM Trent Baalke has said the team's quarterback of the future isn't currently on the roster, coach Jim Harbaugh remains a fan of Smith, whose six-year tenure in San Francisco was filled with more lows than highs.

Appearing on KNBR radio Friday morning, Harbaugh again made it clear he likes Smith and might even be willing to let him return next season – if there is a next season – and compete for the starting QB position.

"Some people say Alex Smith needs a fresh start , needs a new place to be or whatever," Harbaugh said. "I say let that place be here."

One reason the 49ers may be considering Smith, who will be an unrestricted free agent when the league year ends March 3, is that the labor impasses could leave a small window for teams to make deals or sign free agents. Because he's been talking with Smith at the team's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters, Harbaugh has a familiarity with the quarterback and believes he can help him improve. Any kind of prolonged work stoppage would make it hard for the Niners to add a new player.

Asked about his relationship with Smith, Harbaugh said: "Well, I like Alex. And I like being around him and I like what I see on tape. It's come up a lot and it's really not that complicated of a thing. This is a very somewhat simple thing.

"We're going to get the best possible quarterback we can on our football team and then we're going to throw the ball out there and they're going to compete for it. I believe that starting quarterbacks are not anointed. That is an earned position. It's about as simple as that. I go back to football being a pure game. It is that and it shows up on the tape. And it's my job to do the best evaluation for the organization and get the best quarterbacks that we can on our football team, and then we'll go and that position will be earned."

Of course, Smith may still opt to look elsewhere. Before the season ended, he seemed to indicate a reluctance to re-sign with the 49ers – but that was before Harbaugh was hired and the two met. Has his thinking changed? No one knows.

"People are going to make decisions that they think are best for their family, best for themselves and best for the team," Harbaugh said. "So I'm not going to hide my feelings. I like Alex Smith. I like him as a football player, as a person, and he'll make the best decision for him."

(Note: Our thanks to colleague Eric Branch of the Santa Rose Press-Democrat for his transcription of the KNBR interview.)


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