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Arizona Cardinals

Updated Feb 7, 2013 - 3:40 pm

Clayton: Alex Smith could make a 'beeline to Arizona' if released by SF

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith passes during practice on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in New Orleans. The 49ers are scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game on Feb. 3. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

It's now the second-longest running plot line in Arizona sports -- the Cardinals and their search for a quarterback to at least somewhat capably fill the shoes of Kurt Warner.

It's been three seasons since Warner retired from the NFL, and though they've tried six different players in the role, most believe the Cardinals are still looking that guy.

The 2013 NFL Draft is deep with names, but probably lacks a franchise-type quarterback that can fill the position for years to come.

That leaves free agency as the number-one option for the Cardinals in their search this offseason.

One of the more intriguing players who could become available is San Francisco's Alex Smith. The seven-year veteran lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick, who helped lead the 49ers to their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years and is clearly the quarterback of the future for their franchise. San Francisco has said they'll try to trade Smith rather than just release him and his $7.5 million salary (and $9.75 million cap hit) for 2013. They've also stated that if they can't trade Smith, they'll simply keep him -- which most believe is just posturing.

ESPN NFL insider John Clayton joined Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 620 Thursday, and said he believes the 49ers have a plan in place for Smith.

"Oh, they're bluffing in that way because they're trying to get trade value and in some ways, they need to get trade value because I would have to think that if he's released, he'll make a beeline to Arizona and compete against the 49ers two times a year for the next several years," Clayton said.

Smith was the first overall pick of the 2005 draft by the 49ers, and struggled for his first five years in the league. But under the tutelage of head coach Jim Harbaugh, who took over the Niners in 2011, Smith has improved greatly. The former Utah QB has thrown for 4,881 yards and 30 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions over the last two years while racking up a 19-5-1 record as a starter.

"Knowing that the 49ers probably don't want (Smith to go to a division foe), 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," Clayton said.

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