This may come as a surprise, but the 49ers are going to trade Alex Smith. I know, I know. It’s sudden. I mean, the Super Bowl just ended — unfavorably at that. For all we know, Jimmy Smith is still holding Michael Crabtree — though, at this point, it’s probably more of a cuddle than a hold. Ray Lewis is probably crying over fallen ticker tape just outside of Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.
As our lives go on — at least I hope they have — so to do those of the NFL. In particular, I’m talking about the rumor mill, which hardly ceased during the weeks leading to the Super Bowl. The biggest name in the rumor mill is that of Darrelle Revis. The second biggest belongs to Mike Wallace. The third to Wes Welker. The fourth to Dwayne Bowe and so on. Somewhere down the line is Alex Smith, the player teams love to pretend like they don’t love.
Though they haven’t stated as much explicitly, it is a foregone conclusion that the 49ers will trade Smith. But just how much they’ll get in return is what has local radio personalities talking in circles. Popular opinion is that Alex Smith can be had for only a mid-round selection, an hypothesis parroted by ESPN’s Adam Schefter earlier.
But, I’m not so sure. Not only is there a thinly populated quarterback market but it is paired with a market dense with QB-needy teams. This combined with the fact that Smith is the best quarterback to be made available since Jay Cutler in 2009 would suggest that the 49ers are in for a hefty payday.
Since his pairing with Jim Harbaugh, Alex Smith has completed 63.2% of his passes for 5,376 yards, 35 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and four fumbles. When drops and throw-aways are accounted for, Smith has completed 76% of his passes, which ranks him behind Aaron Rodgers as the most accurate QB in the league. He’s complied a 19-5-1 record as a starter, while leading the 49ers deep into the 2011 Playoffs. In short, he’s been good. Very good. Maybe even great.
So, what can the 49ers expect? Well, I’m not sure really. But an abridged history of quarterback trades would suggest more than the predicted “mid-round selection.” I mean, heck, even Tim Tebow, who’s not even a quarterback, earned the Broncos more than just a single pick.
The aforementioned Tebow was traded to New York Jets in exchange for a fourth- and sixth-round draft pick. The Jets also agreed to play Tebow’s $2.53 million salary advance that was owed by the Broncos. While fourth- and sixth-round picks seem outrageously high in hindsight, the Jacksonville Jaguars had offered a fourth round pick and $3 million for Tebow.
In 2011, a desperate Raider team sent a 2012 first-round pick and a 2013 conditional second round pick to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer. The Raiders would then renegotiate Palmer’s contact to the tune of a $2.5 million guaranteed for the rest of the 2011 season, $12.5 million base salary with $5 million guaranteed in 2012, $13 million in 2013 and $15 million in 2014. A bargain, I’m sure.
Also, in 2011, the Cardinals landed Philadelphia darling Kevin Kolb, after he posted 1186 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions in six games. Despite his relative in experience, the Cardinals would surrender Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a former first-round pick, and a 2012 second-round pick. The Cardinals would then sign the 27-year-old Kolb to a five-year, $64 million contract that includes $21 million in guarantees.
In July of 2011, Donovan McNabb was traded from Washington to Minnesota for a 2012 sixth-round pick and a conditional 2013 sixth-round pick. One year previous, McNabb was traded from the Eagles to the Redskins in exchange for Washington’s 2010 second-round pick, as well as their third- or fourth-round pick in the 2011 Draft.
The Raiders, in a highly frugal move, traded a fourth-round pick to Washington for Campbell. Then, in an even more surprising move of frugality, they signed Campbell to only a one-year extension.
The Bears acquired the much reviled Jay Cutler in 2009, trading Kyle Orton, first-round picks in 2009 and 2010, and a 2009 third-round pick to the Broncos. To say the Bears overpaid would be the greatest understatement since Ronaiah Tuiasosopo called himself “confused” sexually. But, at the time, the Redskins, Buccaneers, Lions, and Titans all had eyes for Cutler. Which is to say, the season was ripe for overpayment.
After a season in which he posted a quarterback rating of 89.2, Matt Cassel was traded from the New England Patriots to the Kansas City Chiefs for the Chiefs 2009 second-round pick. Cassel would go on to lead the Chiefs to an AFC West Division Championship, and later, he’d become something of a laughingstock.
At one point, Trent Green was traded from the Chiefs to the Dolphins for a conditional fourth-round pick. Who knew?
If history is any indicator, then this poor quarterback draft class coupled with the even poorer free agent market means some desperate team will overpay. We could usually count on that team being the Oakland Raiders. Alas, that mentality seemed to die off with Al Davis. In any case, the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals, Jets, Bills, and even the Eagles will be vying for a quarterback who can win now. That quarterback is Alex Smith, not Matt Flynn, Matt Cassel, Mike Vick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, JT O’Sullivan, Troy Smith, or Geno Smith. Which is to say, the 49ers are probably eyeing a second-round pick, and there is no reason they shouldn’t get one and then some. The picks collected in previous years from inferior quarterbacks prove as much.