Reading Niners Nation over the last few weeks, it looks like there's a pretty wide range of opinions on what team will get for Alex Smith. Anywhere from "Tim Tebow got a 4th round pick, so Alex will definitely get better than that!" to "Alex Smith won't even start next year, why would anyone trade for him?" I thought it might be helpful, then, if we all had to declare exactly what we think Smith will be traded for. That way, those of us who are right can point to this thread as evidence of our awesomeness, and those of who us are wildly wrong can be righteously clowned by the rest of the commentariat.
Personally, I'm predicting the 49ers will get a 2013 5th round pick for Smith, with some conditional low round picks in 2014. My reasoning:
- Smith's contract: Anyone following this story knows that Smith's entire $9.75 million salary becomes guaranteed on April 1st. What's less known, however, is that $1 million of that is guaranteed already -- depending on when they cut him, the team would owe Smith either $1 or $2 million. However, if traded, the 49ers could probably convince Smith's new team to take on the entirety of his contract. This situation works against the 49ers in a couple of ways -- first, Alex Smith is just too expensive for many teams to take on, especially if he isn't guaranteed to be the starter. But more than that, teams know that the cash strapped 49ers will be looking to shed salary by trading Smith, and that the 49ers prefer a trade to an outright cut for salary cap reasons. It won't be hard for a prospective buyer to make the 49ers negotiate with themselves, getting San Francisco to accept little to no draft compensation in order to clear an extra couple million off of the books.
- A weak market: It's hard to overlook the fact that no team has expressed interest in Smith, publicly or behind the scenes. There have been pundits speculating, of course, but all of the reporters who have written on the subject make it clear that the market is soft. Some of this is a smokescreen -- teams don't want to drive up the market for Smith -- but why haven't we seen this level of silence on any of the other marquee free agents? Team officials were willing to say anonymously that they were interested in Percy Harvin and Darrelle Revis. If GMs couldn't keep quiet about those guys, why are they suddenly so silent about Smith? If anyone had expressed interest privately, I imagine we would have at least seen Smith's agent leak the details. Things can change, of course, but right now it looks like the market is not particularly interested in Smith.
- No perfect fit: Look, most trades are disasters in the NFL, and GMs know that. I feel like trades involving high picks only happen when GMs are blinded by all the reasons the trade makes perfect sense. What could go wrong with Kevin Kolb moving from one WCO to another? how about Carson Palmer reuniting with his old QB coach who is suddenly an acting GM? or Matt Cassel joining his old GM and offensive coordinator after a breakout season? The problem with Smith is that there is no team ready to delude themselves like there was with Cassel, Palmer, and Kolb. The five main candidates are not perfect fits -- Cleveland has a GM who has been publicly critical of Smith, Arizona has a coach who loves deep ball passing, Jacksonville needs a 4000 yard passer to make up for their lack of defensive talent, Kansas City would rather have one of Andy Reid's old acolytes, and the Jets have no money. If Greg Roman had taken a head coaching job, things would be different. As it stands, though, there is no team desperate for Smith, just teams that would like to have him. That's not enough to force a big trade.
With all that considered, My guess is that Andy Reid will talk the 49ers into giving up Smith for virtually nothing as the March 12th or April 1st deadline approaches. The team gets a few low picks but most importantly saves some money, while Alex gets to play for another QB guru.
What do you think? Vote in the poll below -- there are a 1000 different scenarios, so just pick whatever option best describes your thinking. And be sure to add your own prediction in the comments.