When the San Francisco 49ers pursued Peyton Manning last year, NFL experts speculated that the team's relationship with incumbent starter and then-free agent Alex Smith was irreparably damaged and that he might walk.
Instead, after flirting with the Miami Dolphins, Smith re-signed with the Niners for three years and $24 million. He reaffirmed his commitment to the team and said, essentially, "I'm a big boy and this is a business. I can deal."
Smith sure has kept his part of the bargain this year, completing 70 percent of his passes through nine games and throwing two touchdowns for every interception. And, he's taking advantage of his beefed up receiving corps and averaging a yard more per pass this season.
But speculation, especially after backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick's impressive performance Monday against the Chicago Bears, that the Niners might still let Smith walk after the season.
His contract, with only a $1 million guarantee for 2013 and a $1 million roster bonus due in March, makes him expendable from a fiscal standpoint.
But why give him up when he's playing his best ball ever?
If the Niners do part with Smith several teams should come calling. Here's a fast five of teams who should—and likely would—take a good look at Smith.
Want to know how desperate the Jacksonville Jaguars are for a quarterback?
They entertained the idea of bringing Tim Tebow to town this past offseason.
And to be sure, Blaine Gabbert has not silenced the call for a free-agent spending spree or a big trade to solidify the most important position on the team.
While Smith looked at Miami last year, the Jaguars ownership looked under bar-room tables in between the gum and cigarette tar for quarterbacks to no avail.
Smith would certainly be an improvement in J-town, though one would think he would want to go to a team with at least a shot at making the playoffs. He's earned that much with his play the last two seasons.
Odds he lands in Jacksonville: 8-1
The Arizona Cardinals don't have the worst quarterback in the league, not in John Skelton or Kevin Kolb.
But neither has managed to stay healthy or win a lot of games for the Cards.
The Cards definitely have some weapons on offense with a defense that has had its moments. Alex Smith would definitely be an upgrade in Arizona and the Cards definitely have the room to sign him.
But the Cards are deep into a tailspin that looks like it may not end until they crash and burn this year.
Smith, if the Niners release him, would be the best quarterback on the block, unless for some odd reason the Baltimore Ravens do not sign Joe Flacco.
And, for many NFL offensive coordinators, Smith might still be better than Flacco.
Odds he ends up in Arizona: 20-1
There would be no point in firing Ryan and keeping his quarterback, Mark Sanchez.
Just about everything Sanchez has done poorly over the last two years Alex Smith has done well.
Smith is more accurate, protects the ball better, makes smarter decisions in the clutch and routinely finds the second and third receiver better than Sanchez.
And, Smith has played in San Francisco his entire career. If any NFL job can prepare you for making the jump to New York, it is playing quarterback in the City By the Bay for the team previously led by a guy named Montana and another not-so-bad quarterback named Steve Young.
New York fans might want more of a slam-dunk quarterback to help heal the locker room divide of the last two seasons.
But sometimes you get what you deserve.
Come to think of it, the Jets might not deserve a quarterback as solid and workmanlike as Smith.
Odds Smith lands in New York: 5-1
For much of 2012 Eagles fans have been clamoring to get a look at rookie quarterback Nick Foles.
Be careful what you wish for, Philly fans.
Foles was about as impressive as, well, Michael Vick.
Mired in the first six-game losing streak in Andy Reid's career the Eagles will clean house in January after limping into the offseason with double-digit losses in a year they were to be Super Bowl contenders.
The Eagles have plenty of problems to fix—but so many of them are in their head.
This team is still stacked on defense, at the skill positions on offense and has an owner not afraid to spend money to win.
Alex Smith would be a welcome addition in Philly, a team that would be wise not to go into 2013 with Foles behind center.
The Eagles, with a competent signal-caller who is patient in the pocket and protects the football, could quickly turn things around under a new coaching regime, which is all but guaranteed.
And one would think that if Smith is released by the Niners he would sure like a shot at taking them out in the playoffs.
Odds Smith lands in Philly: 12-1
Colin Kaepernick made his first NFL start count, routing the Chicago Bears 32-7 while completing two thirds of his passes and tossing two touchdowns.
His performance already had Twitter abuzz about an emerging quarterback controversy in San Francisco.
There should be no such controversy.
If Alex Smith was peeved by the Niners' dalliance with eventual Hall of Famer Peyton Manning last offseason, I can't imagine how he feels now after completing 25-of-27 passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last two games before being knocked out against the St. Louis Rams.
Asked after the game who would start next week, head coach Jim Harbaugh did little to quell any potential quarterback controversy.
"I usually tend to go with the guy who's got the hot hand and we've got two quarterbacks that have got a hot hand," Harbaugh said.
A lot can happen in six games (and the playoffs) but the Niners would be wise to hold onto Smith if he returns and is even remotely as accurate and dependable as he has been this season.
Odds Smith stays in San Francisco 5-2