More than 20 years after the 49ers made a difficult decision regarding their starting quarterback, they’ve now got a difficult decision to make regarding their backup.
The Niners have three options when it comes to the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. They can keep Alex Smith, they can trade him, or they can cut him.
CEO Jed York told PFT Live during Super Bowl week that the team prefers to keep both Smith and starter Colin Kaepernick, pointing to the fact that the 49ers kept Joe Montana and Steve Young on the same roster for several years. But even if the Niners would be willing to pay Smith $8.5 million to back up a third-year player making the third-year minimum, Smith would have to want to stay and sit on the bench.
All indications are that he doesn’t; we reported during the Pro Bowl pregame that Smith is expected to ask to be released.
The 49ers prefer to trade him, in order to get value. Some believe there will be a trade market for Smith. Even though he found little interest as a free agent last year after completing a career season, far fewer quality quarterbacks are available this year, via free agency or the draft. Other believe interest will be minimal, given the $8.5 million payout and the requirement of an exchange of pick(s) or player(s) to get Smith.
One of the benefits to trading Smith comes from steering him out of the division, and/or out of the conference. By sending him to the Browns (where he’d be reunited with former 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner and where Smith would provide a younger option to starter Brandon Weeden), the 49ers wouldn’t have to worry (for now) about Smith landing in Arizona.
Either way, the situation will need to be resolved quickly. The 49ers will learn at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis whether and to what extent other teams are interested in a trade. If there’s no interest, then the 49ers will have to decide whether to keep him against his wishes or thank him for eight years of loyal service by cutting him loose.