It’s clear that Smith doesn’t have as much potential as Kaepernick, so it’s unrealistic to expect him to take the starting job back from the second-year pro. If Kaepernick struggles down the stretch then Jim Harbaugh might give Smith another chance this season, but it’s highly unlikely that Smith is still in San Francisco’s long-term plans.
However, he’s too good to stay with the 49ers to just be Kaepernick’s backup. At the age of 28, he’s in the prime of his career.
Certainly, he has benefited from having one of the best defenses in the NFL on his side—if not the best—as well as one of the top running games, and that’s something NFL executives will keep in mind. But he’s thrown 30 TD passes compared to just 10 interceptions in the past two seasons and he beat Drew Brees in a shootout to get the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in last year’s playoffs.
Obviously, there are a lot of teams that are struggling at quarterback and would love to make Smith their QB1. However, since he signed a three-year deal with San Francisco this past May, whichever team(s) want him will have to trade for him.
The question is: Which team would be the best fit for Smith?
The number of GMs who have already started thinking about Alex Smith wearing their team’s jersey has probably already reached double digits. The Kansas City Chiefs would be one of the teams at the top of the list if they weren’t slated to end up with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but here are seven teams that should seriously consider sending San Francisco a trade offer for one of the top game managers in the NFL.
7. New York Jets
The probability of the Jets trading for Alex Smith isn’t high, but New York has proven it is willing to do anything to steal attention away from the Giants, especially recently, so you can’t count them out of the Smith Sweepstakes.
Chances are that Woody Johnson and the New York Jets are going to be quite busy this offseason. The organization will have to decide whether or not to keep Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum, whose seats couldn’t be any hotter, and what they should do at the QB position.
They don’t seem to care too much for Tim Tebow since he has barely played while Mark Sanchez has been one the worst quarterbacks in the league this season—he’s ranked 32nd in QBR and has completed only 55.4 percent of his passes whereas Alex Smith leads the NFL in completion percentage this season at 70.0 percent.
The problem is that the Jets gave Sanchez a three-year contract extension this past March, so he’s signed through the 2016 season.
For that reason, the Jets probably won’t reach out to San Francisco for Smith, but if they were to pull off a trade then Jets fans would surely be at least somewhat excited to have a starting QB who can actually throw the ball accurately.
Tony Romo hasn’t been perfect, but he’s thrown for the third-most amount of yards in the league and is in the middle-of-the-pack when it comes to QBR, ranking 15th. Add in the fact that the Dallas Cowboys have been injury-riddled, especially on offense, and maybe Romo’s been doing all right with the situation he’s been put in.
However, there’s always a fall guy for a disappointing season, and the quarterback tends to be that guy. Romo is getting up there in age at 32 and he is under contract for only one more season.
Jerry Jones might be willing to give Romo one more shot, but going after Alex Smith would be a solid option if that isn’t the case. When healthy, the stars on the Dallas offense—Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray—are as explosive as any other wide receiver/running back group, and Dallas has a top 10 defense in terms of yards given up per game.
The college prospects this year at QB haven’t been impressive, but it seems likely that Jerry Jones will opt to take one of them in the upcoming NFL Draft. Otherwise, if he thinks that all the Cowboys need at QB to reach the playoffs is a game manager who won’t turn the ball over then Alex Smith would be his guy.
5. Cleveland Browns
It’s been a quarterback carousel in Cleveland the past few years. Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Jake Delhomme, Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson…All of those quarterbacks have played significant minutes for the Browns since the 2009 season.
Looking at Cleveland’s current QB, Weeden is just a rookie, but he’s a year older than Smith and he’s been atrocious this season. He has 12 TD passes to go along with 13 interceptions and his completion percentage is barely above Sanchez’ at 55.9 percent.
To be fair, Weeden does not have one of the better receiving corps in the NFL with Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Benjamin Watson as his featured targets. But that’s not enough to make up for his poor performances this season.
It’d be embarrassing for Cleveland’s front office to essentially admit that drafting Weeden with a first-round pick was a mistake, but Weeden’s four-year deal is only worth $8.1 million.
With an explosive running back in Trent Richardson, the Browns are set in the backfield, and Josh Gordon also has proven to be a solid rookie. Thus, if Cleveland were to trade for Smith and focus on adding another WR in the draft or through free agency, then perhaps the Browns could legitimately be a team that warrants preparation from its opponents next season.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Before the 2012 season started, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said that another 8-8 record would not be good enough. Well, the Eagles are now 3-8, so 8-8 is the best they could do.
With that in mind, it is almost a certainty that Andy Reid is on his way out of Philadelphia.
As for who is going to be the starting QB in Philly next season, that is unclear.
This is probably Michael Vick’s last season with the Eagles according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Nick Foles has struggled so far this year, throwing three interceptions compared to just one touchdown
How he finishes out the year should determine what the Eagles decide to do at the QB position. If the front office doesn’t feel confident in his ability, then Alex Smith would have to be at the top of their list.
3. Buffalo Bills
The Bills were hyped up before the 2012 season started since they added Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to their defense, but the Bills are currently 4-7 and their defense has been giving up an average of 29 points per game.
Buffalo essentially has the same problem that the New York Jets do with Mark Sanchez. Ryan Fitzpatrick received a six-year contract extension worth $59 million in 2011 that includes $24 million in guaranteed money. If the Bills want to compete in the market for Smith, they’ll have to be willing to throw away a lot of money.
But Smith would be a huge improvement over Fitzpatrick. The Harvard product has a quick release, which helps avoid sacks, but he has thrown 11 interceptions and fumbled the ball five times this season.
Buffalo has a terrific running duo in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson and a star wideout in Stevie Johnson, so Smith would have plenty to work with on offense. If the Bills were to acquire the 49ers QB then they could focus the rest of their time and money on improving their defense.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars have more talent on offense than their 2-9 record suggests.
If Maurice Jones-Drew comes back healthy next year, then Jacksonville’s offense has a chance to be special. Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts have emerged as lethal weapons on the outside and Marcedes Lewis has seemingly regained his form as well.
Since Blaine Gabbert’s injury, Chad Henne has filled in beautifully at quarterback in the past two games. He’s thrown six TD passes compared to just one interception and he’s averaging over 300 yards per contest.
This is his fifth NFL season though and there’s a reason why he was backing up Blaine Gabbert. In the two years that he had double-digit starts for the Miami Dolphins, he threw more interceptions than TD passes.
If Henne continues to put on a great show for the rest of the season then maybe he’ll take the starting job away from Gabbert, who is ranked 29th in QBR and has failed to live up to his first-round draft pick status.
However, if Henne’s hot start proves to be nothing more then Jacksonville’s front office will certainly consider trading for Smith. That way they could use their top draft picks to repair their defense, which is 28th in the league in points allowed.
With budding talent at wide receiver and a star running back who should be healthy next year, Smith would at least give the Jaguars a chance of making the playoffs.
1. Arizona Cardinals
After starting the 2012 season 4-0, the Arizona Cardinals are winless and everything has fallen apart.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has given the reins of the team to rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley, who has looked like he’s in over his head the past two weeks. In his first game, he went 9-of-20 for just 64 yards and the next week he threw for 312 yards but threw four interceptions.
Kevin Kolb had a great run to the start of the season, leading Arizona to four victories when John Skelton was injured, but he then became injured himself and nothing has gone right for the Cardinals since.
The Cardinals could try going back to Kolb or they could wait to see if this Lindley experiment pans out, but adding Alex Smith to their roster would be the best move they could make. It would be the perfect fit for both the QB and the team.
Smith has been in the NFC West his entire career. He has experience playing against the Seahawks and Rams, and of course he knows how his own team’s defense works.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have one of the best wide receivers to ever play the game in Larry Fitzgerald, but he is averaging just 57 yards a game and has caught only four touchdown passes through 11 games. All the quarterback has to do is throw the ball in Fitzgerald’s direction and he’ll jump over any 5’10” cornerback to get a reception, but none of Arizona’s quarterbacks have been able to take full advantage of that thus far.
Arizona’s rushing offense is 30th in the league, but Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams and LaRod Stephens-Howling have all been dealing with injuries, so you’d have to expect more production from them next year. Meanwhile, the Cardinals defense is seventh in the league in yards given up per game and would probably be doing even better in that category if the offense could move the ball effectively and give them more time to rest.
With a healthy set of running backs, a defense that has the potential to be great and one of the best wide receivers in the game, all Arizona needs to compete for a playoff spot is a quarterback who won’t lose the game for them and can make clutch plays when necessary.
That is exactly what Alex Smith has been doing the past season-and-a-half.
It’d be beneficial for both Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers to part ways at the end of this year. As for where he’ll end up, the front offices who aren’t satisfied with their current QB1 and don’t end up drafting a highly rated QB in April will be the ones offering the 49ers the best deals.
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