Are the 49ers trying to keep Alex Smith from the Cardinals?

Could Bruce Arians and the Cardinals be NFC West contenders with Alex Smith? (Ryan Wilson,

Two years ago this summer, the Cardinals traded cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick to the Eagles for backup quarterback Kevin Kolb. Injuries, inconsistency and horribly misjudging Kolb's talent have all conspired against Arizona, an outfit that won five games in 2012.

Bruce Arians, fresh off Coach of the Year honors, has replaced Ken Whisenhunt, but he inherits the same problem that got Whisenhunt fired in the first place: since 2009, when Kurt Warner retired, the Cards haven't been able to find a viable replacement. Which becomes Job No. 1 for Arians this offseason.

Unfortunately, it's slim pickins in free agency, and the 2013 quarterback draft class doesn't appear to have the talent or depth of the 2012 version.

This brings us to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who hinted this week that the organization wouldn't release demoted quarterback Alex Smith.

“I don't think any player (asking for his release) has those wishes granted when they're under contract,” Harbaugh said. “And everything's different. Every scenario is unique. It's certainly not something we're going to delve into and get into specifics.”

The implication: The 49ers have no plans to keep Smith, but before they're forced to cut ties with the first-overall pick in the 2005 draft, they'd gladly listen to trade offers. The thinking is twofold: first, it would be nice to get something for the former starter. Second, the 49ers would have some say in where Smith ended up, which wouldn't be the case if he became a free agent. If the latter does happen, ESPN's John Clayton has a theory on how things could play out.

"…I would have to think that if (Smith is) released, he'll make a beeline to Arizona and compete against the 49ers two times a year for the next several years," Clayton said during an appearance Thursday on Arizona Sports 620 (via

"Knowing that the 49ers probably don't want (Smith to go to a division foe)," Clayton continued, "the best thing to do is hang on to him and see if you can trade him to an AFC team, maybe the Cleveland Browns -- I think the Browns would be the most interested."

We understand the logic, but if true, the 49ers may be over-thinking this. It's one thing to want some compensation for losing Smith, but if the Cardinals are willing to fork over a Kolb-ian haul for Smith's services, the 49ers would be foolish to pass it up solely because they don't want to face him twice a year.

In April 2002, Patriots coach Bill Belichick shipped Drew Bledsoe to the division rival Bills in exchange for Buffalo's 2003 first-round pick. Things worked out OK for New England, and the Bills still haven't made the playoffs this century. 

The situations are slightly different, but the takeaway remains the same: The 49ers shouldn't let an intra-divisional rivarly stand in the way of improving the roster.

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CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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