This is not to suggest that the San Francisco 49ers are in any sort of hurry to get to the offseason, but when the time comes, they are in a position to be productive. There was some significant turnover within the organization this season – activity that would suggest change this coming offseason.
There was no move more suggestive than the one at the quarterback position. After the team’s starting QB went down with a concussion in Week 10, head coach Jim Harbaugh made an executive decision.
Now, with five starts under his belt and a winning percentage of .750, the Niners are well into the Colin Kaepernick era. And while the change definitely stung at the time, if anyone has a reason to look forward to the offseason, it’s Alex Smith.
49ers QBs: Alex Smith remains the NFL's third-leading passer at 104.1. Colin Kaepernick ranks third in fourth-quarter passing at 107.6.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) December 19, 2012
Even though Smith is on the bench, watching from the sidelines, his value has never been higher. Smith still maintains the highest completion percentage of eligible QBs (70.0) and has the third highest passer rating behind Aaron Rodgers and Robert Griffin III (104.1).
Smith showed his ability as a player, helping lead the 49ers to their first playoff berth in over a decade. In one of the greatest postseason games in league history, Smith outscored Drew Brees and his record-setting Saints offense to advance to the NFC Championship.
He has earned quite a bit of credibility in the past season-and-a-half, and will be a hot commodity when the offseason begins.
Even more reason for teams to bite on Smith is because there are a shortage of good quarterbacks coming out of this year’s draft. The realization has set in that the 2013 NFL Draft will feature a number of overrated quarterbacks with bust potential at the pro level.
There are essentially no franchise passers, which is great news because the 49ers do not need one. With their abundance of draft picks, it will mean more playmakers and defensive stars to bring in. San Francisco will let other teams deliberate over selecting a project quarterback.
And while Geno Smith and Matt Barkley may be household names in the NCAA, their ability to transition to the NFL raises some serious questions. This will only make Alex Smith more valuable in the coming offseason.
He will also lead a group of established QBs that will be looking for a change of scenery. Michael Vick is the big name, but teams are going to figure he is past his prime on the wrong side of 30. His infamous run-and-gun ways have not been effective, nor visually apparent in the past couple of seasons.
Meanwhile, Smith, 28, is coming from a winning offensive system where he has grown substantially. He does not make foolish mistakes and plays within his means. Unless the Ravens allow Joe Flacco to test the market, Smith will be the clear-cut No. 1 available quarterback.
Now, to what degree will he be available?
Smith returned to the 49ers after 2011 on a three-year deal. The Niners were hesitant to give him the big payday because clearly, they had seen the potential in Kaepernick. Ideally, the Niners would like to kick the tires on moving Smith to another organization relatively early.
The 49ers believe they have two starting quarterbacks, so from a business perspective, it would be imprudent to let one walk without getting anything in return. Furthermore, Smith’s contract is also trade-friendly in that it is not large enough to scare off potential suitors.
What will happen with Alex Smith in the offseason?
The New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs are obvious teams that could absorb Smith’s contract and get a new signal-caller at a premium. Other teams that could emerge would include the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Niners would need one of these teams to be willing to part with some draft picks. Judging by the market and prior league moves, San Francisco could be asking for a pair of mid-round picks—perhaps a second-rounder if they find a team desperate enough where they could drive up the asking price.
The 49ers should be thrilled with the position they find themselves in. With their league-high 14 selections, they are already in a position to annihilate this year’s draft. If they play their cards right, they could acquire two to three more selections by trading Smith to a quarterback-needy team.
The one reason a trade might not work is because teams may wait for the 49ers to make a move first. If the Niners have Smith on the roster on April 1st, his contract is automatically guaranteed for the season. However, with Trent Baalke behind the scenes pulling the strings, both parties are in a position to prosper from this team situation.
Alex Smith and the 49ers could get a whole lot richer after the new year.
Passes that are thrown 20+ yards in the air: Alex Smith 9-18, 293 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT. Kaepernick 9-18, 302 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT. #49ers— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) December 20, 2012