There is no guarantee the San Francisco 49ers are going to part company with former starting quarterback Alex Smith in the coming weeks and months.
But given the rise of Colin Kaepernick in 2013, it would make sense for the 49ers to try to deal their former number one signal-caller ahead of April’s NFL Draft. Given the dearth of free agent passers available around the league this year – coupled with a less-than-stellar quarterback class coming out of college – they should get a good price for their man.
While we should not be fooled into thinking Alex Smith is going to be a guaranteed Super Bowl saviour for another franchise, we should also recognise that he has been pretty good for the past two years and would serve as a significant upgrade for several teams around the NFL.
Here are five clubs who might consider making a deal for the 28-year-old passer.
Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid has taken charge of a team that is officially the worst in football and owners of the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. But are the Chiefs really all that bad?
They have some pieces in place. The offensive line is decent enough and there are offensive weapons on the roster in running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki. I haven’t included wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in that group as he is likely to test free agency, but this is not the worst set of skill position players in NFL history.
They just need a guy to get the ball out on time and accurately – a task seemingly beyond Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn last season – and Smith can do that for the Chiefs. Defensively, they also have some fine young talent in the form of Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Eric Berry. A reliable quarterback might be just what the Chiefs need to become a playoff team in 2013.
While San Francisco would be reluctant to trade Smith to a team within their division, this move would make a great deal of sense from a Cardinals point of view. And Smith would benefit from working closely with renowned ‘quarterback whisperer’ Bruce Arians.
Much like the Chiefs, the Cardinals appear to be a decent quarterback away from playoff contention. Just look at how they performed defensively last year… they are strong on that side of the football but had no help from the desperate quarterback trio of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley.
Of course, that trio was not helped by a woeful offensive line – I blocked more people on Twitter during the course of the 2012 NFL season than they did on the gridiron! If Smith – who can run a bit but is more of a pocket passer - ends up in Arizona, upgrading the offensive line becomes the next biggest priority for a team with playmaking skill position players in Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells and, if healthy, Ryan Williams.
From a purely positional point of view, this move would make sense for the Jaguars because Smith would be an upgrade on the incumbent pairing of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. But the Jags have already made it clear they are intent on building methodically through the NFL Draft, which makes it less likely they will give up picks for a veteran player.
But are they going to find anyone in the NFL Draft this year who can impact the team on the field the way that Smith might? I would argue that it might be better to invest in a proven veteran in this case rather than take a punt on a younger player yet to play a single down in the NFL.
The Jags were ranked among the worst offenses in the league last year but that lowly rating falls on the quarterbacks (and some key injuries), for me. Add Smith to an offense that would include running back Maurice Jones-Drew, tight end Marcedes Lewis and wide receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, and suddenly the London-bound Jags might be onto something special.
This one might seem like a long shot, particularly given the fact that the Cleveland Browns drafted Brandon Weeden in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft.
But the Browns are under new ownership, new management and a new coaching staff led by Rob Chudzinski. So the 2013 Browns are not wedded to Weeden in the same way as those calling the shots in 2012 might have been. Also, it is worth bearing in mind that Smith would likely blossom if reunited with former 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
In terms of weaponry, the Browns have some decent young talent on offense in running back Trent Richardson and receivers who can stretch the field in Greg Little, Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin. Weeden flashed potential in 2012 but not enough to make the Browns completely ignore Smith, who happens to be about the same age as Weeden anyway!
After giving Ryan Fitzpatrick three years to prove himself – handing him a ridiculous $62 million contract along the way – the Bills look set to part ways with their signal-caller during this off-season.
But new head coach Doug Marrone is no fool – he is not going to consign a veteran passer to the scrap-heap unless he has a viable alternative in place. That alternative could be Alex Smith, although Bills fans might wonder just how different he is from Fitzpatrick.
Smith would certainly take better care of the football and that might be enough to turn the Bills into contenders, although they would still need to address some issues on the defensive side of the ball.
And a couple of outsiders…
New York Jets
The Jets are more likely to stick with Mark Sanchez and his $8.5 million contract, but New York has made bold moves in the past and might see Smith as an upgrade. The Jets have more offensive issues than quarterback alone, however, making this an outside landing spot for Smith. Fans in New York appear to be stuck with the Butt Fumbler for now.
But the Titans already have Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck, I hear you say. Yes they do, but that was the case this time last year and they made a bold play for Peyton Manning. Now, Alex Smith is no Peyton Manning so the circumstances are very different – but there is no getting away from the fact the Titans were let down by some mediocre quarterback play in 2012. I see them giving Locker another shot in 2013 but who knows in today’s NFL?