Another gut-punch coming for Alex Smith?

Another gut-punch coming for Alex Smith?
January 28, 2013, 11:15 am
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What do the 49ers actually owe Alex Smith? Much. What are they compelled to do for him? Not much. (AP)

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So it is reported, more or less, that Alex Smith would like his release from the 49ers after SB The 47. And that the 49ers are more likely to trade him before they take the cap and money hit for the last year of his current contract.

Which tells us, essentially, that the quo remains status on The Great Forgotten Quarterback.

Smith is the conundrum of the modern age – the quarterback who lost his job while on top, and as such will be a fascination on Media Day. He will have to explain in tortured detail what he has already said many times, that he wants to play, he is not happy he lost his job the way he did, and that he will be a good and loyal teammate this week rather than serve as an irritant.

But in a week of news stasis, his curious case will come up again and again, because the only other newsy tidbit we can expect without police or medical intervention will be, “Jackie Harbaugh Says She Will Tell Us After The Game That One Of Her Sons Is Actually The Neighbor Kid.”

The Smith question will arise independently – will the 49ers do him a solid and release him to find his new home without encumbrance?

And the answer is, of course, no. This is the National Football League, and doing solids finishes well behind getting maximum value on the muscle.

Yes, Smith has been a good servant for the team in its miserable years and its good ones. Only Brian Jennings and Isaac Sopoaga have seen more losing, and his own tale is a remarkable one in many ways. He helped Jim Harbaugh as much as Harbaugh helped him, and between them they jump-started a vaporlocked franchise right up to the point where he got traded in for a newer model.

So what do the 49ers actually owe him? Much. What are they compelled to do for him? Not much. And in the NFL, kindness is typically just a prettied-up obligation.

For instance, Smith’s $8.5 million price tag may be steeper than some potential trading partners want to pay. The pushback on that may force the 49ers to release him and say, “We did it because he’s Alex.” This would be a fairly transparent ruse, and well within current NFL guidelines for ruse-ery.

[RELATED: Report -- Alex Smith seeks release from 49ers before free agency]

But this kindness-of-their-hearts argument makes so little sense that the only one pushing that notion would be Smith’s agent, Tom Condon. The 49ers are, as they showed when the switch to The Mighty Kaepernick was done, bloodless when they need to, and often when they want to as well.

In sum, Smith has the same freedom of action he has always had, save that one for-show flirtation with Miami. None. He will be released only if the 49ers cannot trade him. Or they may keep him out of fear that TMK could get hurt, the way most running quarterbacks eventually do. That would please Smith least of all, we presume.

But as we know by now, this isn’t about pleasing Alex Smith. The debt he is owed won’t ever be collected because in the National Football League, beneficence flows the one way. If he gets what he wants, it will because other teams would give the 49ers what they want. And if he doesn’t, well, what’s one more punch in the gut after so many others?