NFL off-season: San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith could go to Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are favourites to land quarterback Alex Smith, with the 49ers insisting they will not cut him.
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH
Last Updated: 25/02/13 4:19pm
Smith took the Niners to the NFC Championship game in 2012 and started the new season in fine form, but the dynamic Colin Kaepernick stepped in after an injury to Smith and never looked back - starting in the Super Bowl against the Ravens.
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh has been saying the team will not be releasing Smith, and in an ideal world he would stay on as an experienced and reliable back-up to Kaepernick - but after the former number one draft pick finally started to prove himself he will be desperate to be a starter next year.
That will not be in San Francisco, so the 49ers will be looking for a trade with a lot of teams in the league needing a solid quarterback to build their team around.
"(He's) an excellent football player," Harbaugh said at the NFL Combine. "He's really playing the best football of his career the last two years. We think we've got the best quarterback situation in the National Football League.
"That will be a process that plays out, Alex Smith continuing to be a 49er, or if a trade occurs in the next weeks or months, those are the two most likely possibilities."
The Jacksonville Jaguars have ruled themselves out of the running for Smith, with owner Shad Khan looking to build through the draft rather than free agency, leaving the Kansas City Chiefs as the favourites.
New coach Andy Reid is keen on his former QB at Philadelphia Nick Foles, but the Eagles want him to stay, and Smith looks a safer bet than Matt Flynn after proving to be a solid if unspectacular starter at San Francisco.
Keeping top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe with the franchise tag and then drafting offensive tackle Luke Joeckel with the first pick seems to be Reid's strategy, and Smith certainly offers an upgrade to Matt Cassel after his poor displays at Arrowhead.
Smith could still be released by the Niners if they feel he has no trade value, but the Chiefs should be able to come up with something to get hold of a player that was much-maligned for years but who had finally started to show his true colours of recent years.
Not with the strongest of arms, or the most dynamic, Smith's greatest attribute was looking after the football - he threw just five interceptions during the 2011 regular season as he led the Niners to within a game of the Super Bowl.
Smith was also playing well last season before injury, completing 70 per cent of his passes for 1,737 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions and had a fine 104 quarterback rating, but he still lost his job - illustrating how tough the NFL is.
Smith is good enough to start in the NFL, it's just a matter of where, and that looks to be Kansas City at the moment.