Finding a new team via free agency does not appear to be an option for Alex Smith -- at least not this offseason.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting sources have told him the 49ers are "highly, highly, highly unlikely" to release Smith into free agency.
Is this another way of saying the 49ers really, really, really expect to have suitors for Smith in a trade beginning on March 12, or that the team would rather keep Smith and the $8.5 million owed to him in 2013 rather than let him walk with nothing in return.
Smith is owed $7.5 million of the $8.5 million he will make in 2013 on April 1, forcing the 49ers to make a decision on his future before that deadline.
Several teams are presumably interested in Smith. The Cleveland Browns appear to be a nice fit, especially with Norv Turner as their new offensive coordinator. As offensive coordinator for the 49ers in 2006, Turner guided Smith to a 58.1 completion percentage and 2,890 yards passing in a 7-9 year.
The Chiefs seem to be the favorite at the moment, however, based on new general manager John Dorsey's comments on the caliber of the quarterbacks in the 2013 draft class.
"There is no quarterback where personnel guys can definitely say, 'He's a first-round pick,'" Dorsey said. "There were so many inconsistencies in the collective group. There was not one guy that stood up and said, 'I'm the guy in the position this year.' There really wasn't one clear-cut guy."
The Chiefs desperately need a quarterback, and with Smith arguably being the best available at the position this offseason, it is no surprise that the two would be linked.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and Smith have discussed the future of the high-paid backup quarterback.
"We had a great meal," Baalke said. "We had a great discussion. I can't say enough good things. And I think if you ask anyone in our organization they would say the same thing: He is a pro's pro. And I have nothing but great respect for him, his family, and we're certainly going to do everything in our power to make the best decision for everyone involved."
The best decision for the 49ers is by no means the best decision for Smith, though. The ideal situation for the 49ers is to trade Smith and receive decent draft picks and/or players in return. For Smith, immediate release from the 49ers allows him to receive the maximum attention from prospective teams looking for a starting quarterback starting on March 12.
San Francisco is going to do what is best for the team, as Mortensen's report further confirmed. The 49ers will pursue trading Smith up until April 1, at which time they will need to reevaluate the situation by either cutting Smith loose and saving $7.5 million, or keeping him as a rather expensive backup quarterback in 2013.
All indications are that the team is leaning towards keeping Smith as their backup to starter Colin Kaepernick if a trade is no longer an option. But Smith's leadership and guidance on the sideline for Kaepernick would be a major positive for the 49ers, as well as a bit of safety if the injury-prone "pistol" offense decides to backfire on Kaepernick.
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.