San Francisco 49ers expected to trade QB Alex Smith, Cleveland Browns considered a potential partner

Chris Graythen

The NFL offseason is just days away and once again the Cleveland Browns don't have a definitive answer at quarterback.

At least one quarterback is looking to make his services available and Cleveland could be among his potential suitors.

Keith Britton of 92.3 The Fan reported via Twitter on Tuesday, according to a source, San Francisco backup QB Alex Smith is interested in the Browns, but that there's is uncertainty whether the interest is mutual.

This followed another report on Monday from ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio that Smith is expected to request his release prior to the start of free agency.

It’s widely believed that the 49ers will trade quarterback Alex Smith. The former starter is due to earn $8.5 million in 2013, with $1 million guaranteed now and the balance guaranteed as of April 1. It makes him a luxury that the team can’t afford.

But the player prefers not to afford the 49ers a chance to trade him. Instead, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that Smith is expected to seek his release before the start of free agency.

This past season, Smith had the best passer rating, 104.1, of his 8-year career with the 49ers, though after suffering a concussion in Week 10, he was replaced by second-year QB Colin Kaepernick, who started the remaining games en route to a Super Bowl appearance.

Smith was 19–5–1 as a starter under San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Of course, the 49ers would prefer not give something away for nothing. Nancy Gay, senior NFL editor for FOXSports.com, reported that the team is eager to trade Smith, hoping do to so quickly so a release isn't necessary.

With numerous teams — the Browns, Bills, Chiefs, Cardinals at the forefront, as well as the Eagles — expressing interest in Smith, NFL sources told FOXSports.com late Tuesday the 49ers are eager to work out a draft-pick trade (fourth- or even fifth-round) that would send their former franchise QB to a new home that suits him best, regardless of whether it’s a division opponent.

Given Smith’s laudable service and loyalty to the franchise, particularly this season when he has all but served as a position coach for Kaepernick, the 49ers would seek to send Smith to a new team as quickly as possible. That would make an outright release unnecessary.

Now, the question remains whether the Browns will be that trade partner.

As Britton noted, Smith has a connection with Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who spent the 2006 season as the 49ers' OC during Smith's second year, where he saw marked improvement across the board as a passer from his rookie season.

The price, estimated to be between a fourth- and fifth-round pick, doesn't seem overly high. If he does have interest in the Browns, it's probably a good sign that the 49ers may be looking to send him to a place he wants to be.

Florio points out Smith is due $8.5 million in 2013, and he's signed through 2014. Brandon Weeden has three years left on his rookie contract, through 2015. These things raise more questions. If the Browns were to trade for Smith, would he come in to compete for the job or would the team look to trade Weeden? Is Smith going to demand a larger long-term contract? What he is due now is already expensive for a backup.

Smith, 28, is less than a year younger than Weeden, 29. Smith would offer far more NFL experience, but what some might view as a lower ceiling. In either case, the Browns will likely have to draft their franchise quarterback of the future eventually, barring any Drew Brees-like career turnaround.

Cleveland has the cap space. Let them compete. As long as they hold a legitimate quarterback competition, they have very little to lose.

This new coaching staff needs to start the best player on the roster, the one that gives the team that best chance to win. If you've got the chance to spend a fifth-rounder to increase your odds at finding the guy, do it.

"QB Controversy" shouldn't matter. As fans in this town are well aware, some people are going to clamor for the backup regardless. At the first sign of success, those people will become increasingly easier to ignore.

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