By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Quarterback talk: Alex Smith hates this. Everywhere he looks, he sees Colin Kaepernick posters, Colin Kaepernick tattooed arms, Colin Kaepernick highlights making touchdowns.
He doesn’t hate Colin Kaepernick, who was given his job as San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback after Smith missed a game with a concussion. Alex Smith hates being in the position of deposed starter. He has put up a good front as a good soldier, but he wants out. That much was obvious on Tuesday at Super Bowl Media Day.
“No question, I’m not going to lie about any of that,” Smith said. “(It’s been) tough at times for sure. Tough to accept, tough to watch. But we’re in the Super Bowl, and this has been an amazing experience. It’s a great team. I love being a part of it. I have said it before. It’s bittersweet a little bit, but still, it’s been a great thing to be a part of.”
In his seventh NFL season since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, Smith was having his best year. The 49ers were 6-2-1. Smith was completing a league-high 70.2 percent of passes. He had 13 touchdown passes and five interceptions. His passer rating was 104.1 – 25 points higher than his career mark.
“I really feel I was playing my best football,” he said.
Kaepernick took over in the game against St. Louis in which Smith was hurt. Coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman loved the options Kaepernick’s rifle arm and quick feet gave the 49ers’ offense. They gave him Smith’s job.
Kaepernick took it and ran with it. And threw with it. Of all the young QB phenoms that blasted on the scene in the 2012 season, Kaepernick is the last one standing. He’s not a rookie, but he’s had only nine NFL starts – fewer than rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin 3 and Russell Wilson. And he’s the starting quarterback in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
The bottom line: Smith is expendable. He will be the No. 1 veteran quarterback on the trade or free agent market when the Browns embark on finding possibly their seventh Opening Day starter in seven seasons and 19th quarterback in 15 years.
The cost and the risk: Smith is due to make $7.5 million in 2013, with $1 million guaranteed. If he is on the 49ers’ roster on April 1, the remaining $6.5 million is guaranteed. Smith also is due $7.5 million in 2014.
The 49ers are not going to pay that if Kaepernick escapes his first game against the Ravens’ defense healthy – win or lose.
There are now reports that the 49ers will seek to trade Smith before the contract guarantee kicks in. A trade means the new team inherits the $15 million on Smith’s contract. Another report said that Smith has asked to be released after the Super Bowl so that he can create a market and choose his destination. In that case, a new team can negotiate a new contract, which would lower the per-year average but add years and multimillion-dollar signing bonus.
“I don’t know where this stuff comes from,” Smith said Tuesday. “I’m focused on this game and helping this team win a championship and doing whatever I can do. That stuff can wait. There is plenty of time for that in a week.”
In 2006, Smith’s second season, Norv Turner was in between jobs as head coach of Oakland and head coach of San Diego. For one year, he served as offensive coordinator of the 49ers under Mike Nolan. Smith improved significantly under Turner, but he was far from great. He completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 2,890 yards and had 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Since then, Smith played under Mike Singletary and Harbaugh. Overall, Smith is 38-36-1 as a starter. His TD-INT ratio was 51-53 for five years until a 30-10 spurt in two years under Harbaugh and Roman.
Will the Browns pursue Smith?: It’s obvious the new regime won’t be handing the starting job to Brandon Weeden. Turner has been the only one to say something positive about Weeden, and that amounted to “he does have a big arm and he can throw the ball up the field.”
Smith doesn’t have as strong an arm as Weeden, but does have more mobility. And he is younger, turning 29 on May 7 while Weeden hits the big 3-0 on Oct. 14.
Just about everybody on the 49ers on Tuesday praised Smith for his handling of an obviously awkward situation with Kaepernick.
“I know Alex and I know he can play,” said running back Frank Gore. “I know he wants to be ‘the man,’ and I want him to be ‘the man.’ If he can’t be ‘the man’ here, I want him to go somewhere else and have a successful career.”
At this point, you’d have to say that Smith is the front-runner to be the quarterback Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi pursue. If they get Smith, it will be the end of Weeden and he will join Tim Couch, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy on the list of promising quarterbacks the Browns failed to develop.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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