For Alex Smith, maturity guarantees nothing
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The 49ers have 10 players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March. Alex Smith is not one of them. Smith is nearly through year one of a three-year, $24 million deal.  But contract or not, if Smith wishes to pursue an opportunity with another team this offseason, his teammates believe he has earned the chance.

"I hope he goes to where he can be a starting quarterback and continue to have a successful career.  He's a great dude," said Frank Gore, who came to the 49ers with Smith in the 2005 draft.  "I really love Alex. He's a great person and I want him to be successful."

"I just hope he does what he feels is best for him. Alex has gone through a lot with this team," starting left tackle Joe Staley said.  "Whatever Alex decides, I'm 100% behind him.  Obviously, one of my best buddies. I'd love to play with him my whole entire career, but it's a business, and Alex understands that and I understand that."

"Whatever he decides I wish him the best. I know that he will do well. Great player," added Vernon Davis, who has been on the receiving end of more than a third of Smith's career touchdown passes. "He was a class act about the whole process. He was a class act. That's why I take my hat off to Alex Smith for being a man, standing up the way he did. He didn't cause any distractions."

Smith could have created a major road block on the 49ers road to the Super Bowl. Instead, he helped pave it. A free agent during the NFL lockout of 2011, he organized and ran offseason workouts with his "former" teammates and the playbook of newly hired head coach Jim Harbaugh. He even paid for the use of the facilities at San Jose State. Smith signed a one-year deal with the 49ers then led them to a 13- 3 regular season record and the NFC Championship game. He signed his current deal shortly thereafter.

One of the winningest quarterbacks over the last two seasons and one of the most efficient too, Smith was unexpectedly benched midway through this season. All he did to lose his job, as Smith explained it, was get a concussion.

Back up Colin Kaepernick came in while Smith recovered and dazzled in a Monday night performance against the Chicago Bears. Much to the surprise of everyone, Harbaugh made the switch.  Smith could have thrown a John McEnroe-sized tantrum.  He could have sulked a la Jay Cutler or Cam Newton. Or he could have been a plain ol' pain-in-the-derriere like too many past-their-prime quarterbacks can be when they are replaced.

The most disruptive Smith became was displaying a genuine sense of disbelief and declaring, "It sucks."  With that, he got back to work, much to the benefit of his replacement.

"He has done nothing but help me," said Kaepernick. "I wish him all the best."

But Smith's future is not up to him. The 49ers can grant his release if he requests it, but there is not much precedent for that, even for a player who has been exemplary on the field, in the meeting rooms and with his attitude. Not even those kinds of players get those wishes granted when they are under contract, Harbaugh explained.

"Every scenario is unique. Certainly something we're not going to delve into and get into specifics at this point," Harbaugh said.

It's unlikely the 49ers will be able to keep Smith and the $8.5 million hit he'll put on the 2013 salary cap. Whether Smith will have input into whether he is kept, traded or released may remain behind closed doors. He has, however, expressed his desire to be a starter again.

"I have great respect for Alex. A great personal friendship," Harbaugh said. "We feel great about our quarterback situation. You can't have enough good quarterbacks."

Smith's dilemma is there are just enough starting positions for one.