For one more week Alex Smith will be a San Francisco 49er. After the Super Bowl, his fate lies in the hands of his general manager and coach.
While it's been heavily speculated that Smith will be traded at the end of the year, the Niners' former starting quarterback hopes his team takes a different route.
NBC Sports' Mike Florio has reported that Smith will ask that he be completely released from San Francisco at the end of the season.
Such a request is a double-edged sword on Smith's part.
On the one hand, Smith will get to decide his own fate as a free agent, signing with the team of his choosing. On the other hand, he will be losing the $8.5 million guaranteed to him in 2013.
Obviously Smith covets the idea of personal freedom more than he does money. Not to mention without an abundance of quarterbacks in this year's draft—or free-agent class—Smith could cash in on the market.
But for the Niners, outright releasing Smith would be a huge mistake.
The former first-round pick started his season as San Francisco's starting quarterback in 2011, leading the Niners to a 13-3 season and NFC Championship loss.
Smith began 2012 as the starter, but a fateful concussion suffered in Week 10 opened the door for second-year player Colin Kaepernick.
Kap outperformed Smith in his spot starts, and his running ability turned San Francisco into a much more dynamic force on offense.
Kaepernick won the starting role for the rest of the season and has his team in the Super Bowl. Smith has ridden out the rest of the season on the bench.
The sad reality of the situation is that Smith did nothing to lose his job. He got hurt at the wrong time, and even though he was cleared for return, his job was already gone.
By all respects the 28-year-old is a starting-caliber quarterback for any NFL team, making him a huge trade chip to use this winter.
Over his past two seasons Smith's completed 64 percent of his passes for 4,881 yards with 30 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.
It's understandable that Smith would request a full release.
With a shortage of quarterbacks on tap in this year's draft, many a bottom feeder will be searching for a worthwhile replacement.
The likelihood of Smith's misfortune—if he gets traded—is the 49ers' fortune.
Each of those four teams sit in the top 10 picks of this year's NFL draft. San Francisco can turn Smith into a possible early second-round pick this season, or possibly a future first-rounder.
If the Niners had some respect for Alex Smith's wishes and wanted to reward their quarterback for his service, releasing him would be the right move.
But at the end of the day, this is a business, and the 49ers need to think about what will help them out the most.
Right now that means denying Smith's request and trading him. It may not be what the quarterback wants, but the rewards to the team are more important at this point.
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