Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is here to discuss a potential Alex Smith trade and its likely ramifications less than two weeks before the March 12 start to free agency.
We begin with a look at whether there's any realistic way for the San Francisco 49ers to keep Smith for another season. They would of course like other teams to think there's no urgency to make a deal.
Sando: The 49ers were one of the few teams last season that realistically could have contended for the Super Bowl with either of its top two quarterbacks. They're flush with draft picks in 2013, so adding another one in exchange for Smith wouldn't necessarily help the 49ers as much right away as Smith would help them if something happened to starter Colin Kaepernick. That was one thought that came to mind.
Williamson: You have to move Smith because he is still expensive, he is a proven starter and it is the right thing to do for the player. Usually, that isn't part of the equation, but in some instances, it's just the right thing to do. Let this guy who treated you great and never lost the job start someplace else. That bodes well for the team and everyone pats him on the back. Not to mention, you are going to get something in return, an asset.
Sando: The 49ers are relatively snug against the salary cap, as well. The $8.5 million slot currently set aside for Smith could help them re-sign a player or add a starter in free agency. San Francisco currently has four players, including Smith, scheduled to count more than $7 million against the 2013 cap. The other three players are starters. Those are precious salary slots. So, if there's a chance to move a backup scheduled to count that much on the cap, a trade makes sense.
Williamson: You can look at it like, 'OK, we're the best team in the league. We don't have glaring holes in our lineups. We have a ton of picks.' In a weird draft where everyone wants to move down, maybe the 49ers are one of the few teams wanting to move up. Maybe they move from No. 31 to No. 15 and get a stud defensive lineman to rotate in and be the next guy up front. I would strongly consider a big move up if I'm the 49ers. Adding a pick for Smith helps that. They need to get younger on defense. A stud defensive lineman or a corner could make sense. So could another receiver.
Sando: Backup quarterback would also become a need. What route would you take there?
Williamson: I don't like a lot of the veterans. It's a weak free-agent class. Jason Campbell comes to mind because as backup quarterbacks go, he is slightly above average, maybe. But you would also like to have your backup be more in the Kaepernick mold athletically so you won't have to change the offense too much. Campbell is not that guy. He doesn’t run around. But no free agent comes to mind who would be athletic and someone you could trust to get you out of a game or grind out a win or two.
Sando: Smith is such a security blanket. The 49ers have said they have the best quarterback situation in the league. Going with Kaepernick and some drafted guy would introduce some uncertainty into the situation. That is life in the NFL, however.
Williamson: Yeah, it's a little frightening. You don't want to use too many assets for a guy you hope stays on the bench. You don't want to package two third-round picks to go up and get E.J. Manuel. There are a couple of decent athletes in this class. The kid at Arizona (Matt Scott) is intriguing as a developmental, toolsy guy who could run. But you can't make sure he's there in the fourth. You could do a little of both. You could go in with Kaepernick as the one, Scott Tolzein as the four, get a C-level veteran after the first couple of waves of free agency and then use a third- or fourth-rounder on a guy to cover yourself.
Sando: Let's take a look at this situation from Smith's perspective. If you're him, you might want to be released so you can find work on your own terms. That seems unlikely to happen, so if you're him, where are you hoping the 49ers send you?
Williamson: I think we've seen the best of Alex Smith. Jim Harbaugh got it out of him. Smith is a limited passer. If I am him, I don't want to go to Buffalo, Cleveland or the Jets -- bad-weather places. I'm not sold that he can be an effective cold-weather playoff quarterback driving the ball through the elements. Kansas City isn't in the tropics, but of all the places, that might be the best one for Smith. The Chiefs could keep Dwayne Bowe, they have a good offensive line, Andy Reid is a quarterback guru and the running back is in place. I thought they would win the division last year. They just turned the ball over a ridiculous amount of times. If the Chiefs last year would have had Alex Smith and one of his low-interception seasons, they would have been respectable and maybe even .500.
Sando: But it still sounds like you're calling Smith a placeholder until a team like Kansas City can find the next guy.
Williamson: Kansas City should trade for Smith, then wait until next year to go get its guy instead of reaching on Geno Smith or a second-round guy it doesn't love. That is my hunch of what they are doing there. It's just such a seller's market for quarterbacks and perfect for the 49ers. The other team it is good for is the Eagles with Nick Foles. I don't think Foles fits the Chip Kelly system, no matter what they say.
Sando: We've talked about Smith. You've mentioned Foles. What about the market for Seattle's Matt Flynn?
Williamson: Smith is better than Flynn. I think Flynn is a backup. He really doesn't throw the football very well. His arm strength is a problem. He is not a playmaker. He is a pretty much a game-manager, a smart guy who has gotten the most from what he has, capitalized on a great situation in Green Bay to have a couple of big games with a great supporting cast, but I don’t want him as my starter. That showed this time last year. He was a free agent for a while. It wasn't like teams were beating at his door. Then he quickly lost the job. The Seahawks loved Russell Wilson, but not enough to take him in the first or second round.
Sando: Flynn's contract is scheduled to count $7.25 million against the salary cap in 2013. That is nearly as much as the $8.5 million hit associated with Smith's contract in San Francisco. However, the 49ers have much more cap room to gain by trading their backup quarterback. They would save the entire $8.5 million if they moved Smith before April 1. The Seahawks would save $5.25 million in salary, but they would still have to account for $4 million in cap charges associated with the signing bonus Flynn received as a potential starter last season. They could push a couple of million into the future, but either way, the savings wouldn't be as great. And it's questionable whether Seattle could get sufficient value in return.
Williamson: If you trade Flynn, you have to find somebody and do you want to use a draft pick or find a free agent? Because you cannot go with what you have. There's no other quarterback on the roster.
Sando: That might be a conversation for another day. Smith's situation is paramount now. We didn't even discuss the Arizona Cardinals' reported interest in him. I don't see the 49ers making a deal within the division. If they do, we'll have even more to talk about.