Alex Smith

49ers analysis: Alex Smith's future boils down to this

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 8:17 am

SANTA CLARA – There are only two sentences to keep in mind as the 49ers' top offseason story line – the Alex Smith Affair – cranks up over the next four weeks:

• The 49ers want to trade Smith.

• Smith would rather be released and become a free agent.

The rest is fluff designed to influence one of those outcomes.

With that in mind, here are five fibs fans are bound to hear between now and March 12, the start of the league's new year and the first day the 49ers can trade Smith.

1. The 49ers are eager to have both Colin Kaepernick and Smith on the roster in 2013.

That's been the party line for the past month or so. However, the risk of locker room turmoil outweighs the insurance of having two starter-quality quarterbacks on the roster.

Smith played nice when he lost his job, but it's difficult to see even Smith, the ultimate good soldier, biting his tongue under this scenario. It's also hard to see Smith allies such as Joe Staley, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis not speaking out in favor of their buddy.

Teams usually don't trade for a player who will be released, which is why the 49ers must create the illusion they will keep Smith. There is also the matter of Smith's $8.5 million salary, which becomes guaranteed April 1 and which is too high for a backup. The 49ers could use the savings to re-sign free agents such as Dashon Goldson and Delanie Walker.

2. There's a weak trade market for Smith.

This ultimately may be how this situation concludes, but it's far too early to report this now. In fact, there's a growing consensus there are no sure-fire, top-flight quarterbacks in the draft. If that's reinforced at the combine, which begins this week in Indianapolis, it will increase trade possibilities.

The Chiefs have the first pick in the draft. Chiefs general manager Mike Dorsey recently told the Kansas City Star there's no agreement on whether there are any first-round quarterbacks much less quarterbacks worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. That makes veterans such as Smith more valuable.

3. Smith was a free agent last season and there was no market for him.

Yes, Smith technically was a free agent in 2012, but there must be a large asterisk next to that designation. Everyone in the league assumed the 49ers would re-sign Smith because the 49ers said they would – remember the Jim Harbaugh-Smith affection-fest at Pebble Beach last year? – and because Smith said he wanted to be back.

It was only when the 49ers offered Smith a mediocre deal and pursued Peyton Manning that Smith figured he ought to make himself available on the open market. That was nearly a week into free agency, and most teams already had made their plans.

4. The 49ers owe it to Smith to release him.

Last year's negotiations with Smith should make it perfectly clear the 49ers do not make decisions based on relationships, and that any player who thinks they do will get burned. The 49ers' overarching obligation is to make the team stronger. Which is why trading their one-time starting quarterback, and getting something in return, is their top priority.

5. Teams will be reluctant to trade for Smith because his salary is prohibitive.

Barring a sign-and-trade deal, a team that trades for Smith would get him for the next two years at base salaries of $7.5 million per year. In the real world, that's a fortune. When it comes to NFL starting quarterbacks, it's a pittance. Smith's salary this year, for instance, ranked 20th among starters.

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