There is much speculation about where quarterback Alex Smith will land in 2013.
Is he a fit in Kansas City, where new coach Andy Reid will be looking for an upgrade from Matt Cassel? Could he be headed to the Arizona Cardinals, where Kevin Kolb hasn’t worked out? Might he go to the Jaguars? The Browns? The Jets?
Plenty of teams in the NFL reportedly are intrigued by Smith, who lost his starting job with the 49ers in November when head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to stay with Colin Kaepernick when Kaepernick stepped in when Smith suffered a concussion.
Smith had led the 49ers to a 6-2 record in 2012 and was leading the NFL in completion percentage when he was knocked out in a game against the St. Louis Rams, And, he had quarterbacked the 49ers into the NFC Championship Game in 2011 after helping the team to a 13-3 regular-season record.
If the 49ers were to release him, Smith undoubtedly would be a hot commodity in the free-agent market.
Smith’s ability to play mistake-free football the past couple of seasons – while making the big play when necessary – has vaulted him to wanted-man status and wiped away the shaky reputation he had in his early years in San Francisco, when he struggled under a succession of head coaches and offensive coordinators.
“I’ll tell you what you’ve got,” former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt told the Kansas City Star, when assessing Smith’s talents recently. “You ever play golf? Scramble? Well, Smith’s the guy you want on your team because he won’t win it for you by hitting it 500 yards and all this other stuff, but he might win it for you by hitting it right down the middle every time.”
But what if the 49ers throw the rest of the league a curveball and decide to keep Smith? The common line of thinking is he’s too expensive to keep around on the roster as a backup to Kaepernick, due for a salary of $7.5 million and a roster bonus of $1 million.
But as Bay Area News Group Columnist Mark Purdy wrote earlier this week, the Niners might be able to afford that in 2013 because Kaepernick will cost so little – just about $1.2 million against the salary cap – and Smith is an excellent insurance policy.
Kaepernick, after all, is a running quarterback and always vulnerable to injury (if, that is, defenders can catch him).
As Purdy wrote, who would the 49ers feel more comfortable coming in to lead the team, Smith or Scott Tolzien, the current No. 3, if Kaepernick goes down? Obviously, it would be Smith.
Plus, Smith has been nothing but a good teammate since Kaepernick took over. It’s hard to picture him making a fuss about being kept on the team in a backup role. It just doesn’t seem to be in his nature.
“If Smith were a different type of personality, it might be a risk to keep him around,” Purdy wrote. “But he’s the kind of guy who understands the NFL’s business model.”
As Jim Harbaugh said this week, just because Smith would like to go somewhere else to be a No. 1 doesn’t mean that’s in the best interest of the 49ers to accommodate him.
“I don’t think any player (asking for his release) has those wishes granted when they’re under contract,” Harbaugh told reporters, noting Smith is signed for two more seasons. “And everything’s different. Every scenario is unique. It’s certainly not something we’re going to delve into and get into specifics.”
Plus, the 49ers could hold on to Smith for a while and see what develops while also playing keep-away from the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals have some good talent and a new head coach in Bruce Arians, but have struggled to find an effective quarterback. Smith might be the perfect fit – yet it would boost a division rival, something the 49ers might want to avoid. Especially with the Seahawks emerging as a power and the Rams also likely to improve under Jeff Fisher.
NFL analyst John Clayton of ESPN spoke about that scenario this week.
“I would have to think that if (Smith) is released, he’ll make a beeline to Arizona and compete against the 49ers two times a year for the next several years,” Clayton told an Arizona radio station, according to CBS Sports. “Knowing the 49ers probably don’t want (that), the best thing to do is hang on to him and see if you can trade him to an AFC team, maybe the Cleveland Browns. I think the Browns would be the most interested.”