When the San Francisco 49ers' season ends on Sunday, either in triumph or heartache, decisions will be made involving the fate of former starting quarterback Alex Smith.
As everyone knows, there are two possible fates that await Smith. One is that the 49ers can (and should) shop him around to other teams to see what they can get for him, in draft picks and/or a player who can help them.
The other is that Smith can be released from his current contract, become a free agent and pick his next team.
For Smith, the second option is the most appealing one. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Smith will try to get the 49ers to release him before the start of free agency on March 12.
It’s a calculated risk for Smith. On one hand, he’s be able to join any team he wants. On the other hand, he’d be losing the $8.5 million that he’d earn this year if his contract is traded.
For Smith, as much as he would like to keep the money that he would be owed on that contract he signed with the 49ers last season, there comes a point when you just want to get out on the field.
I can't tell you if there is a team in the NFL that is going to give him $8.5 million or more to be their starting quarterback. I know his performance with the 49ers in 2012, before he was benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick, certainly warrants that kind of contract.
Smith was completing 70.2 percent of his passes (which would have led the NFL if he had enough attempts to qualify) and averaging 7.97 yards per attempt (which would have been fourth) at the time of his benching.
Those are certainly the kinds of numbers that would merit a team investing big money in Smith. It also helps his case that he will be just 29 years old in May. Given how long he has been in the league, it feels like he should be much older than that.
Which team is the best fit for Alex Smith?
However, the perception of Smith as a quarterback who can't/won't take chances and just "manages" the game is going to hurt him.
Regardless of what kind of contract Smith signs, he is smart enough to know that it is in his best interest to choose his destination. He isn't going to carry a team by himself; he needs the right playmakers, offensive line and running game to have success.
But if a team desperately seeking a quarterback (Cleveland, Arizona, Kansas City) wants to ensure it lands Smith, it will do everything it feasibly can to get Smith. That doesn't help him, because those teams have so many holes that it will be hard for him to succeed.
It is clear the 49ers like and respect everything Smith has done for them over the years, especially this season. Head coach Jim Harbaugh had nothing but rave reviews for the work Smith has done with Kaepernick (via San Francisco Chronicle), saying, "He coaches Colin now more than I do. And that speaks volumes of the kind of person and teammate that Alex Smith is."
That kind of character is what makes Smith a valuable addition to any team in the NFL. But he understands that there comes a time in your career when you have to think about what is in your best interest.
Smith is entering a crossroads right now. He knows for the first time since being drafted in 2005 that his future is not in San Francisco. He wants to create his own future, and it is hard to argue with that.