Two days after losing the Super Bowl and blaming the referees, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said all the right things, blaming himself and the play-calling. He also mentioned the future of Alex Smith, the now high-priced backup quarterback who likely wants nothing more than a fresh start in a new uniform.
Whether or not Smith gets that fresh start with another team will not be up to him, though, as Harbaugh stated on Tuesday.
“I don’t think any player has those wishes granted when they’re under contract,” Harbaugh said via San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch. “And everything’s different. Every scenario is unique. It’s certainly not something we’re going to delve into and get into specifics.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the 49ers are going to shop Smith to teams this offseason, and Schefter also reported that teams are already lining up for Smith’s services.
However, there may be a wrench thrown in the reported plans of Smith. The 49ers actually may keep him as their backup quarterback next season.
Smith is under contract with the team after signing a three-year deal in March 2012 worth $8 million per year. He will be owed $7.5 million on April 1.
“I have great respect for Alex,” Harbaugh said. “Great personal friendship, togetherness with Alex. The team, we feel great about our quarterback situation. You can’t have enough good quarterbacks.”
There is nothing that says the 49ers must get rid of Smith by releasing or trading him. There is also nothing that says it would be logical for the team to keep him, though. Kaepernick is the present and future of the 49ers at quarterback, and they have an unneeded high-paid quarterback with trade value at a career high.
Harbaugh was just attempting to make a point on Tuesday. The 49ers are going to do what is best for the team when it comes to Smith’s situation in San Francisco. If that means they can find a trade partner for Smith with a decent return, they will likely go through with it. But if they cannot find a trade partner this offseason or the return does not benefit the team, then the best thing for the 49ers would be to release Smith and save the $7.5 million guaranteed to him on April 1.
There is reason to keep Smith on the roster, though, and inhale the $7.5 million for a backup quarterback. According to Harbaugh, Smith coaches Kaepernick more than anyone else does, and that is still a valuable role for a young quarterback with just 10 NFL games under his belt and a veteran quarterback who has been through nearly everything the NFL can offer.
Smith is one of the only backup quarterbacks in the NFL who can lead a team to a deep run in the playoffs. With Kaepernick running the “pistol” formation, a style of play that allows the quarterback to be susceptible to injury, it would not be a bad idea to have a capable backup waiting in the wings.
All signs point to the 49ers parting ways with Smith one way or another this offseason, but Harbaugh made it clear on Tuesday that the 49ers will do what is best for the 49ers.
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