Is marrying your cousin unconventional? Yes, and so is keeping Alex Smith if you are the 49ers. But there are intriguing benefits.
Smith has made it clear he wants to be released by San Francisco, but the caring soul would unlikely become a locker room cancer if his demands weren’t met. The team could consider the former starter’s wish, although there was clearly no concern for the veteran’s feelings when he was benched.
The 49ers’ priority is to trade Smith, but ESPN’s Chris Mortensen has noted that interest in the quarterback has been “limited.” The offseason’s hotshot on the trading block appears to be the Eagles’ Nick Foles, whose pose and preparedness as a rookie was unexpected.
So what to do? If the Bengals’ pillage of Raiders’ draft picks in 2011 is any hint, San Francisco should hold onto its expendable bargaining chip. Let crippling injuries and disappointing play around the NFL take its natural course, and by the trading deadline a franchise will come begging for Smith.
And despite Smith’s uneven (i.e. poor) history, teams have shown they are willing to overpay for suspect signal callers. In 2011 the Cardinals traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (a former first round pick) and a second round choice for Kevin Kolb, who had seven career starts at the time. In 2004 the Dolphins dealt a second round selection for A.J. Feeley, who had five career starts to his name.
With Smith’s stock at the highest level since joining the NFL, the 49ers should expect no less than a mid-first rounder. (Enter Percy Harvin?)
The major issue with detaining Smith to increase his trade value is convincing teams he won’t be released (otherwise they would just wait), which will require San Francisco to tie up roster and salary cap flexibility. The Sacramento Bee’s Matthew Barrows reported the 28-year-old is guaranteed an $8.5 million salary if he remains on the squad through April 1st, and the figure would complicate efforts to re-sign Dashon Goldson and Isaac Sopoaga, in addition to adding impact free agents.
There is absolutely no chance Smith will restructure his deal, so the 49ers would have to bite the stick.
But the effort could also pay dividends by hindering a division rival. Smith and the Cardinals have been speculated to be a mutual match, and if the disgruntled thrower signed in Arizona he could nag the 49ers for years. By shipping the quarterback out of the NFC, San Francisco would limit revenge opportunities.
The 49ers have options, and if management is concerned for Colin Kaepernick’s durability, they could simply keep Smith as an expensive clipboard holder. If GM Trent Baalke is a patient man, he should look to get the most out of the former Utah star and fold his current hand.