COMMENTARY | The presumed most coveted quarterback in NFL free agency this offseason may actually not be coveted at all.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported on Wednesday that the trade market for San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Alex Smith is "limited" and there is "not a large buzz" with teams in search of a starting quarterback.
It is bad news for the 49ers, which were looking to cash in on their backup quarterback and add to an already impressive roster that led to a Super Bowl XLVII berth.
The 49ers were expected to be in perfect position entering the offseason. An unneeded backup quarterback with trade value at an all-time high and several teams in search of a man under center with proven ability had San Francisco sitting pretty with trade offers expected to fly in.
That is reportedly not the case.
It is no surprise, though. The 49ers owe Smith $7.5 million of his $8.5 million salary in 2013 on April 1. The NFC champions presumably do not want to pay that kind of money to a backup quarterback with a starter like Colin Kaepernick poised for a second straight Super Bowl berth in 2014. The scenario: the 49ers must either trade or release Smith by April 1.
It is possible that teams are simply waiting out the 49ers at the moment. NFL teams understand San Francisco only has so little time to trade Smith before they owe him the $7.5 million, and a release is expected prior to the April 1 deadline if a trade is not attainable.
Waiting to acquire Smith in free agency sounds better than sending top draft picks to the 49ers to acquire him, which seems to be the reported strategy at the moment.
It is also possible that teams do not feel Smith is worth what the 49ers expect to receive in return for the former starter. Smith had been labeled a "game manager" for seasons that included his trip to the NFC Championship in 2012, and it was not until Jim Harbaugh arrived in San Francisco in 2011 that the 28-year-old had any success. His label of "draft bust" stuck with him through the first six seasons of his NFL career, and that is a rather risky player to trade talent and/or draft picks for, especially with free agency becoming a growing possibility for Smith.
The 49ers also have the option of keeping Smith, a move that would best be explained by Kaepernick's inexperience and the need for a solid backup quarterback just in case Kaepernick's injury-prone "pistol" formation ends his season much like Robert Griffin III. However, keeping Smith is an expensive backup plan, and third string quarterback Scott Tolzien is capable in desperation-especially at $555,000 next season.
In all likelihood, the 49ers and Smith will be parting ways this offseason. Smith wants a new opportunity to start, and San Francisco cannot afford to pay their backup quarterback $8.5 million next season, especially with the future contracts of Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree looming.
Interested teams understand the 49ers' situation, though, and it is looking more and more like San Francisco will have to decide whether to hold on to the coveted quarterback or let him test the waters of free agency hoping he does not sign with a team standing in their way of a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Scott Semmler is a senior at San Jose State University fortunate enough to have covered nearly every Bay Area professional sports team, including the San Francisco Giants' 2012 World Series title. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSemmler22.