Supplanted as the 49ers starting quarterback in November by multi-talented backup Colin Kaepernick, Smith, 28, figures to be the most sought-after veteran quarterback this offseason. He helped carry the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in 2011, and got them off to a good start this season before a concussion felled him briefly.
By dutifully following the letter of the NFL’s concussion protocol — sit, wait for a doctor’s clearance — Smith should have received the customary fruit basket welcoming his return to the starting job. But 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh went rogue by traditional NFL standards, and stuck with who he believed was the best available QB for his team. By Week 13, that happened to be Kaepernick.
Lugging around a $7.5 million guaranteed salary for 2013, Smith was the most expensive — and in-demand — backup player roaming the field at Super Bowl XLVII Media Day in New Orleans on Tuesday.
“That’s my job — be ready to go,” he said of his support role behind Kaepernick. “It’s a crazy game. Crazy things happen, and my job now is to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
“Things happen in sports. This is the deal. For me, it’s just being ready for the next opportunity. That’s what I can control.”
He said he had “no idea” why it has been reported he is seeking an outright release from the 49ers, rather than hope for the best in a trade. Fact is, Smith may not have to worry about the semantics regarding his anticipated departure from the only NFL team he has ever known.
With numerous teams — the Browns, Bills, Chiefs, Cardinals at the forefront, as well as the Eagles — expressing interest in Smith, NFL sources told FOXSports.com late Tuesday the 49ers are eager to work out a draft-pick trade (fourth- or even fifth-round) that would send their former franchise QB to a new home that suits him best, regardless of whether it’s a division opponent.
Given Smith’s laudable service and loyalty to the franchise, particularly this season when he has all but served as a position coach for Kaepernick, the 49ers would seek to send Smith to a new team as quickly as possible. That would make an outright release unnecessary.
While Smith has often been typecast as a West Coast-style passer, NFL personnel insiders remember him successfully running Urban Meyer’s high-powered spread offense as a college phenom at Utah.
“Everyone sees upside in Alex Smith,” one NFL executive told FOXSports.com. “And he’s handled himself like a professional with the Kaepernick situation.”
Another NFL executive said Smith’s value has increased because he has conducted himself so well after the demotion. Even if Smith’s days as a franchise QB are behind him, he may be a solid “bridge” starter for a team that is grooming a young passer, or looking to draft one.
For now, Smith is carrying the No. 2 clipboard and working diligently to mentor Kaepernick as the 49ers prepare for Sunday’s Super Bowl challenge against the Baltimore Ravens. And he continues to answer awkward questions about what it feels like “to lose his job.”
In response to that, Smith had to laugh. “I’m still employed,” he said.
“I feel like I have a lot of football still ahead of me, for sure. I don’t feel like this is my last opportunity. I feel like there is a lot more out there for me.”