Jeff McLane, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 6:04 PM
NEW ORLEANS - Alex Smith once met Chip Kelly.
Roll out the green carpet. Cue up the news conference. Stitch his surname on the back of a No. 11 Eagles jersey. Smith is coming to Philly.
While that may be the preference for some fans - and could very well be the end result - there is no proof that Kelly has such desires. And even if the new Eagles coach coveted Smith, it's a long way from being remotely possible.
And yet, that hasn't stopped many from speculating where the 49ers' backup quarterback may land this offseason, even as he's preparing to play the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
"It's the Super Bowl, so it kind of demands the respect," Smith said Wednesday. "It demands your attention and focus. . . . But, obviously, I've been asked about it a lot, a lot of questions."
On Tuesday, during Media Day at the Louisiana Superdome, Smith was engulfed by wave after wave of reporters. And while he was not placed at one of the stages set up for big-name starters, the attention he drew warranted it.
On Wednesday, the 49ers news conference was held in a banquet hall at the Hilton, and as Smith walked to a round table with his name on it, he joked that he once again wasn't up at one of the podiums.
It's been a rough few months for Smith. The 49ers have reached the summit, but he didn't get them there. After suffering a concussion during a game in early November, Smith lost his job to Colin Kaepernick.
It wasn't as if Smith wasn't performing well. The 49ers went 6-2-1 in games in which he started. He had completed 70 percent of his passes. And last season he had San Francisco a few points from the Super Bowl.
But coach Jim Harbaugh saw greater potential in Kaepernick, much as Andy Reid did in Michael Vick two years ago when he benched Kevin Kolb. The difference was Harbaugh's gamble paid off, and Kaepernick helped get the 49ers over the NFC title game hump.
Smith, meanwhile, was left halfway down the hill.
"It's bittersweet a little bit," Smith said on Tuesday, "but still, it's been a great thing to be a part of."
While he hasn't publicly looked beyond Sunday's game, the tempest has already begun. There have been reports that the 49ers will oblige Smith's request to be a starter next season and either trade the 29-year old or release him if they can't find a trading partner.
As many as 10 teams could be interested. There aren't any potential free-agent quarterbacks as attractive as Smith, and the draft has no prospects who can be expected to step in and start right away.
The Eagles may be in the market for Smith. It's likely only Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman know for sure. It's unlikely that Michael Vick returns, and Nick Foles could be in the team's plans. But he may not be suited to run Kelly's spread offense, even if the coach plans on altering it to the strengths of his quarterback.
Smith ran the spread offense in college at Utah. He ran it so well that the 49ers made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft even though the NFL hadn't completely embraced the scheme. Now it's everywhere.
"I'm certainly not opposed to it," Smith said of playing in the spread. "We've done it here. [Offensive coordinator Greg] Roman has done a great job implementing that stuff and even more now with Colin in. It's really dynamic stuff, really hard to defend."
Kelly, the story goes, ended up in Oregon after the Ducks were pasted by Smith and Utah. Coach Mike Belotti wanted to bring the spread to Oregon as a result and sought out Kelly, who was then at New Hampshire.
Smith said he's met Kelly only once.
"I met him very quick," Smith said. "He came down to our facility this offseason for a day or two. I just shook his hand."
For the first five years of his NFL career, Smith was viewed as a bust. The 49ers went 19-31 in games he started. He averaged just 6.2 yards per pass attempt. Then Harbaugh and Roman came aboard, and the 49ers went 19-5-1 in games Smith started, and he averaged 7.4 yards per pass.
"I think Alex has proven he can win in this league," said Kurt Warner, the NFL Network analyst and former NFL star quarterback. "But I think a lot of people think that Alex has some shortcomings in his big-play ability or maybe the ability to carry a team on his shoulders."
Kelly may not need Smith to carry the Eagles offense on his shoulders. He has a franchise running back in LeSean McCoy, a budding talent in tailback Bryce Brown, and athletically gifted receivers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Smith was asked what his strengths are.
"Understanding of the game, can really handle the volume, complexity, run game and pass game," he said. "Really feel like I can do a lot out there. Can do a lot at the line of scrimmage. Can make good decisions, not turn the ball over, going to move the chains."
Even if the Eagles want Smith, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll have the first shot. The Browns are in need of a quarterback, and Smith has a solid relationship with Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who called plays in San Francisco in 2006.
The Eagles could ask Smith to compete with Foles for the starting job.
"I think a situation like that for Alex is, 'Do I go somewhere where there's a young guy waiting in the wings or a young guy that's starting, or do I try to find my own spot where I can really step in and start and set my own path?' " Warner said.
Smith still has time to think things over.
Contact Jeff McLane at email@example.com or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.
Jeff McLane INQUIRER STAFF WRITER