49ers must bring in vet to compete with Smith

With Alex Smith all but signed, sealed and delivered to return for another season with the team, the 49ers still must make it a priority once the NFL lockout ends to bring in another veteran to compete with Smith for the starting quarterback position this summer while QB-in-waiting Colin Kaepernick develops behind them. There are a handful of candidates out there who would be right for the job.

It's appears obvious by now that the 49ers have no plans of giving veteran David Carr – the only quarterback currently signed on their roster – a shot at the starting position once the NFL lockout situation is resolved and teams actually start preparing for the 2011 season.

The 49ers might not even plan on keeping Carr on the roster this year, considering the way he fell out favor with the team last season. That makes it even more imperative for the 49ers to find another veteran to compete for the starting job with Smith, who now appears certain to rejoin the team as a free agent once the lockout ends and he is able to sign a contract that already has been offered to him.

The 49ers can't just hand the starting position to Smith again, and that probably is what the 49ers are thinking right now after their public courtship of Smith has everybody convinced the team's new coaching regime is going to give him yet another shot as San Francisco's starter.

There won't be a stellar crop of QB candidates out there once free agency actually begins – far from it – but there are a few names the 49ers can seriously consider to bring in and make Smith earn the job, or potentially lose it to a veteran who has shown in a few months that he is more capable of leading the 49ers to victory in 2011.

The competition from a legitimate veteran starting candidate will only push Smith to get better, and it also will only help in the development and learning curve of Kaepernick, who will be in the mix at the position one way or another while he gets acclimated to playing quarterback at the professional level.

Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and Baltimore's Marc Bulger are two of the top veterans who are unrestricted free agents and can be signed by anybody once the lockout ends. Both are experienced veterans who have had success in the league. Each is coming to the end of their career and might be willing to join a young, playoff-caliber team with one more chance of starting and reaching the playoffs before they leave the game.

The 49ers should take a hard look at both these players if they're available. If both aren't better than Smith, they would definitely push Smith to get better, and also would be on hand to take over if the 49ers begin the season like they did last year with Smith as the starter, when San Francisco lost its first five games.

Veterans such as Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton and Vince Young also could be available. While Young might be a risky proposition, each of those veterans has better proven performance in the league than Smith and could give the 49ers viable options at the position.

The much-discussed Carson Palmer situation – depending on what happens with him in Cincinnati – also is a consideration for the 49ers, though Palmer would come in as the expected starter and the team probably would need to make more of a commitment to him. With the 49ers' apparent commitment to Smith, that seems unlikely.

San Diego's Billy Volek and Seattle's J.P. Losman also are traveled veterans with starting experience who could contend for the position in San Francisco's camp this summer.

There are a few restricted free agents – their status could change depending on a new collective bargaining agreement – with starting experience that the 49ers could seriously consider. Oakland's Bruce Gradkowski, Jacksonville's Trent Edwards, Detroit's Drew Stanton and even Carolina's Matt Moore are possibilities. And what about former first-round pick Matt Leinart, who is currently toiling in obscurity on the Houston Texans' bench?

That's a lot of options for the 49ers to consider.

One thing is certain: They just can't hand the job to Smith without first upgrading his training-camp competition with an established veteran contender. That is, unless you want a repeat of last season, when everybody saw what happened to the team under those circumstances.


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