The number one topic in this, the most important of all pro-sports’ off-seasons is: What will happen to Alex Smith? Rumors abound and everyone, from local beat-writers to national media insiders, are sounding off on what will happen to America’s favorite backup QB.
Much sound and ink has been spilled on what exactly Smith should expect before the beginning of training camp. One faction of insiders seems to think that 49ers will give Smith his outright release before rosters are set in order to save his salary against the cap. Another believes that the 49ers brain trust will keep Smith’s status under wraps until April’s NFL draft. A third segment thinks that Smith should stay put as insurance for the team against the very fate that befell him as a starter, namely injury.
A recent dinner enjoyed by Smith and his wife with 49ers’ General Manager Trent Baalke seems to point to the second possibility and perhaps the third. And Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s cryptic comments at the Combine seem to point to the idea that at the very least, Smith will not be given his outright release.
It appears that some effort is being made to keep Smith from going public with a demand to be released, perhaps being coupled with some assurances for the Smiths that Alex will have a say in where he might be traded.
The 49ers will certainly play the cards that they are given here. They want to control the landing point for Smith, at least for next season. A release would essentially make him a street free agent, letting conference and division rivals like the Arizona Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles have a free run at him.
Smith has been a good soldier since he suffered his concussion against the St. Louis Rams which cleared the runway for Colin Kaepernick’s ascension into NFL stardom. For that alone, the 49ers would be well-served to find a deal which would allow Smith to get out of town while letting him land with a team (likely in the AFC) which has a chance to compete.
Now, certainly, the business of the NFL doesn’t leave much room for sentiment. But this is an occasion when a very small kindness might go a long way. Look for Number #11 to stay in town until draft day, perhaps to to packaged in a deal that might help the 49ers draft positioning.
Fortunately for Smith and the 49ers, the hot stove is just about to start cooking.