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Alex Smith, 49ers big winners with Vick off table

With Michael Vick off the table for teams in search of a new quarterback, Alex Smith is the new belle of the ball.

It will be interesting to see how that changes the dynamic surrounding the San Francisco 49ers' erstwhile starter.'s Ian Rapoport said Monday on "NFL Total Access" that the 49ers plan to release Smith "fairly early" if they're unable to find a trading partner. The Vick news could increase the chance a deal gets done.

Smith earned serious respect in the 49ers' locker room with how he handled his demotion, and we've heard how the Niners now want to do right by him. It's a nice thought, but why exactly should San Francisco be so quick to part ways with Smith, who can be a substantial trade chip?

And let's be clear: When you have the player considered to be the most coveted quarterback on the market, you have a substantial trade chip.

Smith is due $7.5 million next season to go with a $1 million roster bonus next month. He's not cheap, but it's in the neighborhood of what Vick should earn from the Eagles in 2013. Given the landscape that Vick and the Eagles helped create, Smith's price tag won't scare teams off.

Jim Harbaugh said last week he has a "great personal friendship" with Smith, but he stopped short of saying the quarterback will dictate the next step in his career.

"I don't think any player has those wishes granted," Harbaugh said. "They're under contract."

It was a subtle bit of gamesmanship by Harbaugh, who knows Smith has more trade value if the outcome of his 49ers career appears less inevitable.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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