Let Smith-to-Cards speculation commence

Oddly enough, maybe the two biggest stories out of Super Bowl week have

been related to deer-antler spray (?) and the future of one team’s

backup quarterback.

With rumors circulating that

49ers quarterback Alex Smith will request his release after the season,

FOXSports.com

reported Tuesday that the Niners instead will seek

to trade their former starter in hopes of recouping a draft pick,

probably a fourth- or fifth-rounder. Considering the dearth of similarly

quality options in the upcoming free-agent class and the lack of an

Andrew Luck/RGIII-esque franchise QB in the draft, it seems likely that

Smith will draw sufficient interest for a deal to be consummated,

especially since the FOXSports.com report indicated that the Niners are

willing to work with Smith to send him to his preferred destination

“regardless of whether it’s a division opponent.”

You

know where this is going. The Cardinals’ quarterback situation after

the Kevin Kolb injury was not good. It was bad. It has been widely

speculated that John Skelton won’t be back next year, and it was clear

from Ryan Lindley’s no-touchdown, seven-interception rookie season that

he’s not close to being ready for an NFL starting job. So even if Kolb

is brought back — his contract would almost certainly need to be

renegotiated since he has a $9 million salary for next year along with a

$2 million roster bonus due in March — the Cards will probably still

want to add a veteran QB, either as a backup to Kolb or as competition

for him. And it’s unknown exactly what Bruce Arians’ opinion is of Kolb,

as pretty much all there is to go on is this quote from his

introductory press conference.

“The first thing is

you look at the skill level. I see what I see. Fundamentally, can I

correct things or can we correct things? Is he salvageable? Has he been

hit out?”

It wasn’t much of an endorsement, but it

wasn’t much of anything else, either. Keep in mind that before Kolb was

injured, he had thrown eight touchdown passes and three interceptions as

the Cardinals had started 4-1; if he had thrown enough passes to

qualify, he’d have finished 16th in the NFL (exactly average among

starters) in passer rating at 86.1, and the Cardinals probably wouldn’t

have finished 5-11 (that extrapolation can go on for a while). At the

very least, he appeared to be a viable starter, albeit a fairly

expensive and injury-prone one (hence the need for an

alternative).

For reference, Smith lost his starting

job in Week 11 after suffering a concussion but finished the season with

a quarterback rating of 104.1, which ranked third in the league behind

only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He also had a 90.1 rating last

year (continuing an upward career trend) while taking the Niners to the

NFC title game, and his mobility is of some unquantifiable benefit. Is

he better than Kolb? That’s debatable and probably dependent on the

offense/system. But at only 28 and with four years of decent starting

experience, he’d seem to be well worth a mid-round pick for any team

desperately in need of competent quarterback play.

So

it would seem that there are really two questions (related questions)

for Arians, new GM Steve Keim, et al. The first: With Smith owed $7.5

million next season in the second year of a three-year deal, can the

roster sustain two quarterbacks making starter-level money? Because if

Smith is acquired but Kolb isn’t retained, the Cardinals would be in

almost the exact same situation they’re in now, with one quarterback

coming off an injury and nothing behind him (and no long-term guarantee

of stability at the position). The second and bigger question: Smith is

obviously seeking a starting job, but do the Cardinals’ new decision

makers see him as a franchise quarterback — or at least a

definitely-better-than-Kolb quarterback — within their system to the

extent that they’d guarantee him the starting job before determining

Kolb’s future? If not, their interest might end up being irrelevant

since Smith presumably would have little interest in moving from San

Francisco as Colin Kaepernick’s backup to Arizona to potentially be

Kolb’s backup. But if so, and if the price is really only a fourth- or

fifth-round pick, the Cards would probably be more than willing to meet

it and figure out both the cap ramifications and the backup situation

later.

By the way, the Cardinals have all their own

picks this year other than their seventh-rounder and have two additional

sixth-round picks in the April 25-27 draft. Kolb’s roster bonus is due

March 16.

— Matt

Swartz