With the Cleveland Browns reportedly wanting to pursue a veteran quarterback this offseason, one of the players who has been discussed in the rumor mill is the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith. We all know about the quarterback situation in San Francisco: Colin Kaepernick took over for Smith part-way through last season and helped lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. Kaepernick is fully entrenched as the 49ers' starter moving forward.
Normally, there would be no problem in keeping a veteran like Smith as a backup. In this case, though, Smith will receive $7.5 million in guaranteed money if he is still on the 49ers' roster on April 1. That has led to the belief that as much as the 49ers would like to trade Smith, they will probably have to inevitably let him go. There are reports coming out of the NFL Combine that make it seem otherwise, though. On Thursday, sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that the 49ers are "highly, highly, highly unlikely" to release Smith. On Friday, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh added fuel to Mortensen's report:
#49ers HC Jim Harbaugh said releasing QB Alex Smith is unlikely. Trading him or keeping him are most likely possibilities, Harbaugh said.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) February 22, 2013
Niners Nation, our 49ers affiliate, was quick to (wisely) point out the advantage of Harbaugh using the type of language that he did:
Naturally Coach Harbaugh won't acknowledge a potential release at this point. All about trade leverage— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) February 22, 2013
Clark Judge from CBS Sports still sees the Browns as the most likely destination for Smith. My personal stance is that we don't need Smith, whether that involve acquiring him via a trade, or signing him through free agency. Teams can begin discussing trades on March 12, so San Francisco has plenty of time to negotiate with teams before making a final decision on whether Smith needs to be cut. Cleveland does not have a second-round draft pick this year, so they'd either have to dive into next year's picks, or further lessen the number of picks they have in 2013.