Alex Smith is a gift from God to the 49ers.
They continue to benefit from his existence. Smith will help the 49ers more this offseason than he ever did when he was on the team.
Bow your head and give thanks.
Before the Chiefs traded Smith to the Washington Redskins Tuesday night, the Niners were desperate. They wanted to negotiate a long-term contract extension with their free-agent quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, but had no leverage. They needed him. They were all in.
Garoppolo was not all in. He was dipping his little toe in the water and gazing around the pool. He never publicly said he wanted to sign a long-term extension with the 49ers. He may prefer to accept the franchise tag, see how things go next season and potentially leave the 49ers in 2019 if the team underperforms in 2018.
Now, thanks to Smith, they don’t need to worry about that possibility. They don’t need Garoppolo. They could take him or leave him at this point. In fact, they could trade him. And they should. They should trade Jimmy Garoppolo.
Let me explain.
On March 14 when free agency begins, the Smith trade will become official and he will become the Redskins’ starting quarterback. Their former starting quarterback, Kirk Cousins, will become a free agent.
That’s who the 49ers should sign long term to play quarterback. Cousins. Not Garoppolo.
Don’t get me wrong — Garoppolo shows promise. He has the ideal skillset for a quarterback and was successful in a short period of time with the 49ers. He is undefeated as a starter in the NFL, he’s only 26 and he has a relatively clean injury history – cleaner than some of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft.
If Garoppolo were in the draft, he would almost certainly be the first pick. Other rookies would be much riskier selections. One of them could be the next Ryan Leaf — a flat-out bust. Garoppolo definitely isn’t a bust. Teams have seen him play well in the NFL. He is one of the most valuable assets in the league right now.
And that’s why the 49ers should sign him to the franchise tag and then trade him. His trade value is worth more than his athletic ability to the Niners.
I count five teams that would kill to have Garoppolo: the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers can give Garoppolo the franchise tag on March 14, then trade him to one of those five teams before the draft. At minimum, the Niners probably would receive two first-round picks, a second-round pick and a third-round pick.
And then, the Niners can sign Cousins. He may be even better than Garoppolo, who has started only seven games in his career. Cousins has started 57. He is a proven commodity. His 99.7 passer rating since 2015 ranks fourth highest in the NFL behind Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan during that period.
Cousins had a down year in 2017 — his passer rating fell to 93.9 and his completion percentage fell to 64.3. But, there are reasons for that. He lost to free agency two starting wide receivers (Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson). And he lost to injury a starting tight end (Jordan Reed), a starting running back (Robert Kelley), a starting guard (Shawn Lauvao) and a starting tackle (Trent Williams).