Colin Kaepernick has solidified himself as the team’s starting quarterback. He took over the position midway through the season, and led the 49ers to within one touchdown of winning their sixth championship in franchise history.
The emergence of Kaepernick, though, has left Alex Smith without a starting job.
The former No.1 overall draft pick was relegated to the bench when head coach Jim Harbaugh named Kaepernick as the permanent starter. Smith is still under contract for two more years, and San Francisco will likely not want to pay starter money to two quarterbacks. Before the 49ers release Smith, the organization will explore trade options.
Even though he lost his job, Smith still has more value than almost any backup in the league. Last year, he took San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game. Before he was replaced during the 2012 season, he led the 49ers to a 6-2 record and completed over 70 percent of his passes.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs are two teams that could have interest in the signal caller. New Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner worked with Smith in San Francisco in 2006. Andy Reid is entering his first year as the Chiefs head coach, and he has previously expressed interest in Smith, according to the report.
Neither the Browns nor Chiefs have an established quarterback on their roster.
Cleveland drafted Brandon Weeden in the first round of the 2012 draft. He started 15 games for the Browns in his rookie season, but registered a 72.6 passer rating, placing him 29th among starters. Weeden will be 30 years old in the October, and the Browns may not have much more patience with him.
No team is in need of a quarterback more than Kansas City. Matt Cassel started the majority of their games, and finished the season with the worst passer rating of any consistent starter.
The Chiefs have the top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but there is no quarterback that is considered to be a “can’t miss.” USC’s Matt Barkley, West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Arkansas’s Tyler Wilson are considered to be the best quarterbacks in this year’s class, but they aren’t nearly as highly regarded as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin II were in 2012.
Smith would almost certainly be an upgrade for Kansas City and Cleveland, but they might have some reservations about giving up too much to acquire the veteran. The quarterback didn’t have much success until Harbaugh took over in 2011. Smith helped San Francisco become one of the NFL’s best teams, but is seen by many as a quarterback who simply manages the game and doesn’t make big plays.
Even if the 49ers can’t get equal value for Smith, there’s a good chance they will trade him this offseason.
The quarterback hasn’t hid the fact that he’s unhappy as a backup. It would also make financial sense for San Francisco to trade Smith, instead of releasing him. The club would save money on a roster bonus by dealing Smith.
In 10 games this season, Smith threw for 1,737 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.