There’s already talk around the Bay Area that the San Francisco 49ers are so loaded that they might just trade some of their better depth players before the regular season begins.
On the surface, this sounds like the right idea–get something for nothing and build for the future with some middle- to late-round draft choices. Trade rumors make great water cooler stuff to talk about and it certainly makes some sense for the organization to consider the idea. However, trades are not so easy to make and as the saying goes–some of the best trades are the ones that are never made.
Clearly, the 49ers do have depth and the most likely position out of which a trade might come is quarterback. While Alex Smith is written down as the starter and second-year player Colin Kaepernick is the favorite to win the No. 2 spot, there are two other above-average talents (at least, after one preseason game) who could become trade bait: Scott Tolzien and Josh Johnson.
Tolzien, who put up a solid performance in the team’s preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings, has moved up to the third spot (the same spot he occupied last season) for the 49ers. Johnson–who played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and signed with the team this offseason–has slipped to fourth string on the roster heading into the second week of preseason.
So who should the 49ers trade? Well, Tolzien has displayed more than enough to impress and could probably hold his own if thrown into live action during the season while Johnson has experience and size–so it’s certainly not an easy decision to make. The team could go with the same three quarterbacks as the 2011 season (Smith, Kaepernick and Tolzien) and feel confident, but the hard truth is that Johnson would have little to no trade value when the other 31 teams know that San Francisco won’t keep four quarterbacks.
In other words–the other 31 teams know San Francisco would have to cut Johnson if that ended up being the case. Then again, a trade guarantees a team of acquiring a particular player whereas his release leaves him open to anyone–so who knows what to expect
Tolzien has much more trade value for teams in need of a strong No. 2, but it would amount to a risky trade for San Francisco if something should happen to Smith or Kaepernick–which would leave the team undermanned at a crucial position.
Still, there are teams that could use a new backup quarterback. A short list might include the San Diego Chargers, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns (if Colt McCoy is traded), the Oakland Raiders and the Atlanta Falcons.
Any of those teams might consider a deal for Tolzien, but not for Johnson. Conversely, why would the Niners want to trade Tolzien? Smith will not play forever and while he seems to have won the hearts and minds of fans and coaches alike, nothing is definite regarding his long-range future.
There are also rumors that either Anthony Dixon or Rock Cartwright could become trade bait when the other makes the team as the final running back. Dixon had a nice performance against Minnesota, but maybe San Francisco generously wanted to give him some film in case he does end up being cut.
Then again–maybe the Niners wanted to see what he could offer considering it’s doubtful any team would jump to trade for either when they could get in line after one of them is cut.