This was mentioned briefly in today’s links post. You know, the post directly below this one. In fact, I think I used nearly the exact same words as our friendly headline there. Super Bowl week is getting off to a great start.
Anywho, Alex Smith’s likely departure from San Francisco deserves some elaboration. There’s no doubt that the 49ers are solely focused on three hours of pretty important football Sunday, and scoring more points than the other guy (Maddenism! take a shot). But right now two offseason decisions that will be dealt with by the Niners front office are already percolating, and they both came to us by way of the fine folks over at ProFootballTalk.
First, late last night PFT reported that Smith is expected to ask for his release before the start of free agency, a decision the 49ers will begin wrestling with shortly after the confetti settles Sunday. He’s due $8.5 million next year, with $1 million of that already guaranteed, and the rest locked in on April 1. Colin Kaepernick, meanwhile, has $3.8 million guaranteed in his rookie contract, but overall he’ll only be paid $740,844 next year. That means with the current salary structure of their offensive depth chart San Fran will be dedicating about $9 million to the quarterback position next year, which is still an affordable sum for the most important position on the field.
While it’s highly likely that Smith isn’t a 49er next year, that slightly large but affordable overall price of the two quarterbacks in 2013 means that seeing him remain Kaepernick’s backup isn’t an outlandish thought. As brilliant as Kaep has been, he’ll still make only his 10th career start Sunday, meaning inexperience is a lingering concern. Of course, the far greater concern is injury, just as it is with any mobile quarterback. That’s why the Colin Kaepernicks and Russell Wilsons of the NFL need to have some of the league’s best backups behind them.
If he is indeed shipped off, though, doing it through a release probably won’t be the preferred method for 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. He may lack some flash and dazzle, but Smith has still proven he’s a capable starter in this league after he led an offense that came one win away from the Super Bowl a year ago. That alone makes him a prized commodity for any QB-needy team (hi, Bills and Jets), and therefore Smith is also valuable to Baalke as a trade chip. The major obstacle in any trade will be that 2013 salary, and a trading partner’s unwillingness to pay it. Which brings us back around to the start of our perfect circle, and the possibility of Baalke shrugging his shoulders, sighing his big sigh, and just releasing Smith.
The GM’s other decision lies with Randy Moss, his veteran receiver. PFT also reported that unlike Ray Lewis — and John Elway and Jerome Bettis before him — Sunday’s game won’t be Moss’ last. He plans to play next year. But where, exactly, will he be playing?
Moss signed a one-year contract worth $2.5 million last offseason, and he’s produced on par with that salary. That’s not meant to be some Moss rippage, it’s just a fact. It’s science.
The Niners signed Moss at good value, and they expected him to be their third or fourth receiver who could use his patented burst in select situations. For the most part, he’s done that, as his 454 receiving yards during the regular season was actually pretty solid production considering his minimal usage for much of the year (28 catches on 50 targets). Among those catches was a 55 yarder, and he has at least one 20-yard grab over four of his past five games.
San Francisco now has a strong-armed quarterback who’s often most comfortable when he’s asked to roll out of the pocket, and throw on the run. Currently, they also have a wide receiver in Moss who’s cool with being used minimally, and solely being a deep option when he is deployed. So if the cost remains cheap — and it usually is for a soon-to-be 36-year-old receiver — why not keep that connection going and retain Moss, even if he’s still firmly buried in his No. 3 WR slot?