Gentlemen, start your fibbing.
There are only two sentences you need to keep in mind as the Alex Smith Affair cranks up over the next four weeks: 1.) The 49ers want to trade Smith. 2.) Smith would rather be released and become a free agent. The rest is fluff designed to influence one of those outcomes.
1.) The 49ers would be perfectly happy and perfectly capable of having both Colin Kaepernick and Smith on the roster this year.
That's been the party line for the last month or so. However, as The Merc's Tim Kawakami pointed out this weekend, 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 this past season, 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 like Joe Staley, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis not speaking out in favor of their buddy. Teams usually aren't willing to trade for a player who will be released anyway, which is why the 49ers must create the illusion that they will keep Smith. (See: any trade negotiation ever).
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. There can be no trades until the start of the new league year on March 12. As of now, the consensus seems to be there are no sure-fire, top-flight quarterbacks in the draft. If that is reinforced at the combine, which begins this week, it will increase trade possibilities. The Chiefs have the first pick in the draft. In today's Kansas City Star, general manager Mike Dorsey said there's no consensus on whether there are any first-round quarterbacks much less No. 1 overall quarterbacks. The Chiefs could trade for the Eagles Nick Foles. Like the 49ers with Smith, the Eagles are saying they'd prefer to hold onto Foles to drive up his trade value.
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 needs to 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 do so - Remember Jim Harbaugh-heart-Alex Smith 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. But 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 that the 49ers do not make decisions based on relationships and that any player who thinks they do will get burned. The 49ers' only obligation - as they see it - 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 would 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 you-and-me money, 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 NFL starters.
- Matt Barrows