SAN FRANCISCO — Alex Smith quietly stayed behind the scenes after losing his job and watched from the sideline as San Francisco returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years. Yet the No. 1 overall draft pick from 2005 did make one thing known: The veteran quarterback still considers himself a starter.
And he hoped to get that chance again. Now, he appears to have it.
The Kansas City Chiefs have agreed to acquire Smith from the 49ers in the first major acquisition since Andy Reid took over as the team's new coach in early January, a person with knowledge of the trade told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal cannot become official until March 12, when the NFL's new business year begins. Another person familiar with the swap said the 49ers will get a second-round pick in April's draft, No. 34 overall, and a conditional pick in the 2014 draft.
After spending his first eight up-and-down years with the 49ers, Smith will get a welcome new start. The Chiefs will get the proven play-caller they hope can help turn things around under a new coach much the way Smith did under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco.
"You never know when your opportunity's going to come," Smith said late in the season. "The good ones are ready when they do come."
The Chiefs have gone this route before, acquiring Joe Montana from the 49ers nearly 20 years ago, in April 1993, after he won four Super Bowls but gave way to Steve Young — San Francisco's quarterback of the future.
Not so different from Smith's situation last season behind second-year QB Colin Kaepernick.
Moving Smith was hardly unexpected. He realized it once Kaepernick emerged as a capable starter over the season's final two months, and Smith all but said goodbye with his first pro team when he played briefly in the regular-season finale against Arizona to cheers of "Let's Go, Alex!" and "Alex! Alex!" from the Candlestick Park crowd.
With Smith now headed for Kansas City, Matt Cassel is likely headed out of town. And Reid will enter his first draft as Chiefs coach in April no longer needing to search for a quarterback.
The Chiefs' problems at quarterback are the single biggest reason they went 2-14 last season and secured the No. 1 pick in the draft for the first time in franchise history.
It's been a long-running problem for a franchise that has tried Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac (two more one-time 49ers), and more recently Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen and Tyler Palko at quarterback. And then there's Cassel.
He was acquired by recently fired general manager Scott Pioli, and has two years left on a $63 million, six-year deal. He will likely be cut once Smith is acquired.
Cassel was benched last season in favor of Brady Quinn, who also is a free agent after going 1-7 as the starter.
If Smith can bring the steady form that defined his last two years, the Chiefs might be able to establish a much-needed consistency under center. They also found themselves a team-first player who led the 49ers through workouts during the 2011 lockout.