As San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was trying to sell reporters on the idea that the 49ers could keep quarterback Alex Smith, other members of his organization were quite clear about what is going to happen to Smith as they prepared to sign players.

Smith is going to get traded and probably sooner than later.

As San Francisco front-office representatives met with several agents to gauge the free-agent market on Friday at the NFL scouting combine, there was a common theme to their discussions.

Don't worry, we'll have plenty of money once we trade Smith. The 49ers spent much of the day checking with agents on the upcoming cornerback market, which will feature Aqib Talib, Leodis McKelvin, Greg Toler, Cary Williams, Sean Smith, Derek Cox, Quentin Jammer, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Michael Jenkins. Several of those players figure to cost in the area of $8 million to $9 million per year as the 49ers search for a No. 1 cornerback.

That more clandestine message was being delivered even as Harbaugh tried to say Smith might be staying.

"I think the main thing is that Alex is an excellent football player," Harbaugh said. "Alex is really playing the best football of his career the last two years. We think we got the best quarterback situation in the National Football League, feel strongly about that. Again, that'll be a process that plays out. Alex Smith continuing to be a 49er or if a trade occurs in the next weeks or months. Those are the two possibilities, most likely possibilities."

Harbaugh then made it pretty clear that Smith won't simply be released as the 49ers deal with the $8.5 million he is owed this season in base salary and bonus.

"That's unlikely," Harbaugh said.