INDIANAPOLIS – As San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was trying to sell reporters on the idea that the 49ers could keep quarterback Alex Smith, other members of his organization were quite clear about what is going to happen to Smith as they prepared to sign players.
Smith is going to get traded and probably sooner than later.
As San Francisco front-office representatives met with several agents to gauge the free-agent market on Friday at the NFL scouting combine, there was a common theme to their discussions.
Don't worry, we'll have plenty of money once we trade Smith. The 49ers spent much of the day checking with agents on the upcoming cornerback market, which will feature Aqib Talib, Leodis McKelvin, Greg Toler, Cary Williams, Sean Smith, Derek Cox, Quentin Jammer, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Michael Jenkins. Several of those players figure to cost in the area of $8 million to $9 million per year as the 49ers search for a No. 1 cornerback.
That more clandestine message was being delivered even as Harbaugh tried to say Smith might be staying.
"I think the main thing is that Alex is an excellent football player," Harbaugh said. "Alex is really playing the best football of his career the last two years. We think we got the best quarterback situation in the National Football League, feel strongly about that. Again, that'll be a process that plays out. Alex Smith continuing to be a 49er or if a trade occurs in the next weeks or months. Those are the two possibilities, most likely possibilities."
Harbaugh then made it pretty clear that Smith won't simply be released as the 49ers deal with the $8.5 million he is owed this season in base salary and bonus.
"That's unlikely," Harbaugh said.
It's also equally unlikely that the 49ers will go into next season with the most expensive backup quarterback in NFL history (at least going in). While Smith has played the role of good soldier since losing his job midway through last season to Colin Kaepernick, those close to him have made it clear that he won't be so abiding if the 49ers don't work something out quickly.
That means that the better question is where Smith will end up. Although one source said it's far too early to guess, Kansas City appears to be the most interested team. The Chiefs are unlikely to use the No. 1 overall pick on a quarterback this year because none of the top ones – such as Geno Smith and Matt Barkley – appear to be worth it. Several head coaches and offensive coordinators this week said they wouldn't be surprised if no quarterback were selected in the first round this year.
"I don't see a single guy that I would feel confident about doing that with," an NFC offensive coordinator said. "Maybe you get into the 20s and, depending on your situation, you take a chance on one. But none of these guys look like sure-fire starters. Good players? Sure, but nobody who looks like some of the guys we have seen the past two years."
All of that means that teams looking for quarterbacks, such as Kansas City and Arizona, will be far more tempted to go the veteran route and trade for Smith.
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