COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers will look to make Justin Smith retire as a member of the Red and Gold. Smith, 33, agreed to sign a two-year extension, keeping him intact through the 2015 season. Despite the tread on his tires, the organization made the smart move to keep "The Cowboy" in town.
From 2002 to 2011, Smith has started all 16 regular-season games. His durability alone makes him a special player. Add that element of his game to his overall productivity, it's easy to see why the 49ers wanted to hang on to him.
Since the defensive tackle arrived in 2008 from the Cincinnati Bengals, the 49ers have surrendered an average of 94.3 rushing yards per game. Over the past four seasons, they have been one of the best units in defending the run, ranking no lower than sixth overall. Smith's innate ability to eat up blockers has made life easier for his teammates to attack opposing ballcarriers.
The 13-year pro is also a dominant force in pass defense, totaling 10.5 sacks in the last two seasons. While he can get after the quarterback, his presence allows the likes of Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks to make plays from the outside. After Justin tore his triceps tendon in Week 15 against the New England Patriots, the 49ers defense, and more specifically Aldon, never looked the same.
Through San Francisco's first 13 games of 2012, Aldon notched 19.5 sacks. Despite putting some heat on the quarterbacks that he faced throughout the playoffs, he failed to register a single sack. While he may have played through a torn labrum, opponents probably had a better understanding of how to contain him. It did not help that Justin battled his own physical limitations. With the elder Smith functioning at less than 100 percent, that would in turn have a domino effect on Aldon, as more attention could be devoted his way.
However, after having a full offseason to recover, the Smith tandem should be back to full force.
There also lied a degree of uncertainty that Smith would return after the 2013 season. In preparation of his possible departure, the 49ers selected Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine in the second round of the NFL draft. But now that Smith is staying put, the team can afford to slowly integrate the rookie into their rotation, especially as he recovers from a torn ACL.
The four-time Pro Bowler should act as a positive influence for Carradine while he learns the nuances of the NFL. Instead of looking down on the newly-acquired defensive end, Smith understood the business of the sport, stating that "It's the NFL. You're always bringing in people, you're always bringing in competition." That team-first attitude should rub off on Carradine, as well as the whole 49ers' locker room.
San Francisco and Smith placed themselves in a win-win situation. Smith acknowledge that his future is uncertain beyond this upcoming season, but his two-year extension created about $4.3 million in salary-cap room for the franchise. Smith's cap figure was at $8 million, but fell to $3.73 million. In return, the savvy veteran gets to remain on a championship-caliber team.
Despite Smith's age, he remains a key cog in the 49ers defense. He may not pile up the gaudy numbers or appear on highlight reels, but he serves as the engine that makes everything run.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Justin Smith
- San Francisco 49ers
- Aldon Smith