NEW ORLEANS — It's conceivable that quarterback Alex Smith is on the verge of wearing a 49ers uniform for the last time, but his legacy as a teammate and leader figures to live on for quite some time.
On Wednesday, coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick praised Smith for how much he means to the success of the 49ers and Kaepernick.
In particular, Harbaugh said Smith's attitude and approach to his role as a backup after spending most of his NFL career as the unquestioned starter stands out.
"It's been exceptional," Harbaugh said. "It has been a role model for those in team sports, especially for high school and youth sports. The proof there is when you hear Scott Tolzien talking about what kind of role model Alex has been in the quarterback room."
Smith's value as someone that has experienced so much as an NFL player doesn't stop there, Harbaugh said.
"You hear (quarterbacks coach) Geep Chryst talk about the contributions that Alex has made, and (offensive coordinator) Greg Roman talk about Alex's contributions to the game plan. Nothing has changed.
"And you hear Colin talk about what Alex has meant to him through this process. He's been a tremendous (help)."
A report surfaced Tuesday night that said the way Smith has handled the situation of being replaced by Kaepernick nine games into this season earned Smith the right to be released soon after the season so that he has a chance to find a starting
Harbaugh said he understands "the desire to play." For now, that means Smith being ready to play if called upon, something that hasn't happened since Kaepernick took over.
"We have a left arm and we have a right arm," Harbaugh said of his belief that he has two starting quarterbacks. "That's something that is very good for our football team."
Kaepernick said Smith has handled the situation with class and helped expedite his growth as a player.
"It has gone about as well as it could," Kaepernick said. "Alex has been phenomenal. He's done nothing but things to help this team. He's done nothing but help me. So, he's been great through it."