Before the 2005 draft, people asked, Should the 49ers draft Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick?
After that season began, the question materialized as, Should the 49ers play Smith in his rookie year?
In 2009, it was, Should the 49ers start Smith or Shaun Hill?, followed by, Alex Smith or Troy Smith? in 2010.
Should the 49ers bring him back? presented itself before the 2011 campaign after a lockout-shortened offseason.
And following a 13-3 record in 2012—not to mention a comeback win in the playoffs—the question amounted to how many years should the 49ers give to Smith in a new contract?
Now it’s 2013, and the question, What should the 49ers do with Alex Smith? still isn’t going anywhere.
Smith compiled a 6-2-1 record before sustaining a concussion in that Week 10 tie with St. Louis. Colin Kaepernick then took over and assumed the starting role for the remainder of the season.
Even though Smith was healthy enough for six of those seven games. And even though Smith led the league with a 70 percent completion rate and nearly did with a 104.1 rating.
In any case, the should the 49ers start Smith or Kaepernick? debate is officially a distant memory. Kap dazzled with a 5-2 record and received Jim Harbaugh’s ringing endorsement—one that makes him the starter now, for 2013 and beyond.
With Smith as the backup, and with contracts and salary caps in mind, one three-part question remains:
Should the 49ers trade, keep or release Smith before the 2013 season?
Let’s briefly run down the scenarios.
49ers Release Smith
Huh, a $7.5 million backup?
On April 1, San Francisco will owe the entirety of Smith’s $7.5 million salary for 2013.
That number comprises a substantial chunk of the $120.98 million owed to 45 players on the 49ers next season. Compounding matters is that the 2013 NFL salary cap is reportedly $121 million for each team (via CSNBayArea.com).
Roughly $20,000 seems a bit low for the additional eight players on the 53-man roster.
This is especially true considering principal members of the 49ers defense are in need of contracts. Safety Dashon Goldson, linebacker Larry Grant and defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois are just a few of the important names unsigned for 2013.
San Francisco indeed finds itself in some pretty dire financial straits. Freeing up money by releasing Smith would be a prudent, if not, absolutely necessary move.
Scott Tolzien would serve as the primary No. 2 quarterback in this situation. The 49ers would look to their 14 total picks for the 2013 draft as further insurance.
49ers Keep Smith
The NFL is ultimately a bottom-line business predicated on financial goals and fiscal responsibility.
But that also doesn’t mean teams aren’t responsible towards anything else.
Having both starting and backup depth at key positions is vital. While starting quarterbacks receive—and deserve—most of the attention, possessing competent backups at the position is crucial.
Recent history shows the perils and heartbreak involved with using unproven replacements.
The Texans experienced a QB tragedy of their own that season as well. In this instance, Houston actually made it to the playoffs without Matt Schaub. Backup T.J. Yates even won the first postseason game in Texans franchise history.
Yet, they were never going to win it all with Yates at the helm. A team with greatness across the board needed a veteran backup in the worst way possible.
For the 49ers, Kaepernick is a prolific and supremely gifted quarterback. But he isn’t invincible, especially with the hits he sustains when running the ball.
In this scenario, then, San Francisco would keep Smith as the reliable veteran backup, with Scott Tolzien being deemed unfit and serving as the No. 3.
49ers Trade Smith
This hypothetical situation derives much from the first.
The 49ers must clear a considerable portion of their financial commitments in 2013. They are barely under the cap and too many critical players remain unsigned.
All that said, there are a couple dynamics involved other than money.
Despite everything, there is a fair amount of respect between Smith and the 49ers. The organization would maintain decency and give Smith a more respectable sendoff than just straight up cutting him (hypothetically speaking, of course).
General Manager Trent Baalke would also kill two birds with one stone in this scenario.
He would orchestrate his usual savvy dealings to stockpile even more draft picks, while at the same time trading the starting-caliber quarterback wanting (and deserving) another shot.
Plus, Baalke could control which team Smith ends with for 2013. He could keep him away from the rising Cardinals and any NFC powerhouse, in other words.
In a perfect world, the 49ers could re-structure Smith’s deal and feature the most accomplished backup quarterback in the NFL.
The team would be fat and happy, and Smith would find a way to graciously accept his new position as well.
But we all know that has zero chance of happening. Egos are far too big, and teams cannot support two starting commodities at quarterback.
When you have two quarterbacks, you have none, as they say.
A trade it is, then.
Until that trade happens, the 49ers have the best one-two QB combination in the playoffs.
Accordingly, they should keep Smith prepped and happy for the time being.
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