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From the NFL Combine: Would Alex Smith be a QB upgrade?

By Pat McManamon

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The Browns won’t reveal their quarterback plans until Friday when coach Rob Chudzinski addresses the media gaggle at the Scouting Combine.

And they may not reveal them then, because Chudzinski may play the “still studying” card.

But the 49ers made it plainly evident without saying it directly that the Browns (or any team) would have to give something up if they want to add Alex Smith. The 49ers plan to take full advantage of the fact they have Smith under contract.

General Manager Trent Baalke said the team has not yet decided if it will trade Smith, who lost his job to Colin Kaepernick last season, but he sure sounded like a guy ready to do so.

And he sounded like a guy who would take advantage of the fact that the draft is not strong for quarterbacks, and Smith is the best experienced option available to a team looking for one.

“Are we going to trade him for sure?” Baalke said. “No, that hasn’t been decided.”

But he also said he had dinner with Smith and his wife shortly after the Super Bowl, just to make sure all parties had an “understanding” of the situation.

He said “all options” are on the table.

And he said: “We are going to do everything in our power to make the best decision for everyone involved.”

He also called Smith “a pro’s pro.”
“I can’t say enough great things about him,” Baalke said.

And he added: “I have nothing but great respect for him.”

Sound like a guy building up a guy for a trade?

Smith is under contract for $8.5 million this season. The 49ers would like to keep free agent safety Dashon Goldson. Having Smith and Kaepernick on the roster would be a sticky situation. So the 49ers could release Smith, which he’d like, or they could trade him. Which clearly seems to be the team’s preference — though they would have to find another team to pay Smith that salary, barring a contract re-do.

Nobody knows if Smith is on the Brown radar, but owner Jimmy Haslam has said there will be competition at quarterback in ‘13. The Browns must decide if Smith is enough of an upgrade over Brandon Weeden to justify a trade. Smith is a former first overall pick, and he’s younger than Weeden.

Smith’s career rating is 79.1, his career percentage 59.3. He’s averaged 179 yards per game passing in his seven seasons.

He started well last season (rating: 104.1 with 13 TDs, five interceptions and 7.97 yards per attempt), but lost his job after being sidelined with a concussion when Kaepernick was so dynamic. Even with the high rating and 70 percent completion rate, Smith averaged just 193 yards per game in 2012. For a team that eventually went to the Super Bowl.

As a rookie, Weeden had a 72.7 rating (thanks to throwing more interceptions than touchdowns) and averaged 225.7 yards per game.

Smith is a decent NFL quarterback. He doesn’t throw as well as Kaepernick, nor does he bring a new dimension to the Browns other than experience.

At this point, if the 49ers insist on a trade, which presumably means a draft pick as compensation, it seems more logical for the Browns to stick with Weeden and give him a chance in the offense directed by Norv Turner.

Unless the Browns want to start over (again) just for the sake of starting over.

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