Current San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Alex Smith could be the best available QB in free agency should the Niners not trade him. Some of the top quarterback’s available when free agency comes around include Jason Campbell, Bruce Gradkowski and Matt Moore. Those names don’t exactly scream out starting quarterback, which makes Smith the best QB available to teams should he be released.
The depth at quarterback for the 2013 draft class is nowhere near what we saw last year. So teams searching for a starter will not likely find in the draft another RG3, Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson to start for them. The 49ers would like to trade Smith and get something in return, rather than releasing him for nothing. Trading him also gives the Niners control of which team he lands with. But is it a foregone conclusion he will be traded or released by the Niners?
Colin Kaepernick stayed healthy through his ten starts this season, but because he is a running QB the potential for an injury is greater. Similar running quarterbacks have not fared well in finishing out a full season recently (See RG3 and Michael Vick.) If Kaepernick goes down with an injury, it would be nice to have Smith still on the team as a backup. Should Smith leave, the 49ers have only Scott Tolzien as a backup QB. Tolzien has received praise and was given the nickname of “Baby Drew Brees” by Donte Whitner. But his only extensive action has been in exhibition games, often against third-string defenses. So to say he would be a reliable backup to Kaepernick is a stretch. Remember, Smith was one of the most accurate QB’s this past season before he lost his starting job. He would definitely be a better option than Tolzien.
But would it make sense for the 49ers salary cap to keep Smith on the bench as a backup? Last March, he signed a three-year deal for $24 million. Should he remain a Niner next season, he would be owed a salary of $7.5 million, plus a roster bonus of $1 million. That sounds high for a backup, but the 49ers could still be under the salary cap with his contract on the books. Kaepernick will make around $750,000 next season, so it is not as if a significant portion of the salary cap will be tied up with the quarterbacks. However, it would awkward having a backup making a lot more money than the starter, especially with Kaep taking away Smith’s job at QB.
The 49ers should trade Smith to get some draft picks. One of the picks should be used on a quarterback that could be a reliable backup in one to two years. They should also sign a veteran QB in free agency that has starting experience. Jim Harbaugh has proven to be QB guru at the college and NFL level, so any QB brought in to backup Kaepernick will only get better under the head coach.
Potential Teams For Smith
The Cardinals have a new head coach in Bruce Arias, but they have the same old problems: No reliable QB. Kevin Kolb is still on the roster, but his inconsistency and injuries have proven he is not the right man under center for Arizona. Even though Smith has been diplomatic in handling his demotion, I bet he would love to head to Arizona to finish out his career. He would relish the opportunity to play the Niners twice a year and to try to show them it was a mistake they got rid of him.
The Matt Cassel experiment is over in Kansas City and new head coach Andy Reid is looking for a starting QB. This is the likely landing spot for Smith if he enters into free agency. The Chiefs are so desperate for a QB, they might be willing to give up the two or three draft picks the 49ers will ask for in return. Also, Reid will likely run the West Coast Offense in K.C. which is the same system Smith had his most success in with the 49ers.
The Jaguars are coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history and new head coach Gus Bradley will be looking to upgrade the quarterback position with an experienced starter. QB Blaine Gabbert has proven to not be a franchise QB and so the Jags will be looking for anyone other than Gabbert to start under center next season. The Jags have young and talented offensive weapons in RB Maurice Jones-Drew and WR’s Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. Smith at quarterback could be what the team is missing.
Here is Harbaugh on what the Niners might do with Smith:
I don’t think any player (asking for his release) has those wishes granted when they’re under contract. And everything’s different. Every scenario is unique. It’s certainly not something we’re going to delve into and get into specifics.