49ers Justin Smith Announces Retirement After 14 Years in the NFL

By Jesse Reed

After months of waiting, San Francisco 49ers fans finally have their answer to the “will Justin Smith retire” question, and it isn’t a happy one.

The answer is yes.

“As a football coach, you will always be searching for the next Justin Smith, knowing full well you will never find a player quite like him,” said 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula. “Everybody knows about his toughness, durability, and instincts, but his greatest attribute does not get the attention it deserves. Justin never concerned himself with personal accomplishments, his unselfish nature made that impossible. People like to say ‘they broke the mold with him’ but there was never a mold. Justin Smith is a hand-crafted football player.”

That he retired isn’t a surprise.

The veteran lineman has been threatening to retire every year after the past few NFL seasons. Therefore, the 49ers have been planning for Smith’s eventual retirement for years, per head coach Jim Tomsula.

“For four years—you see the D-linemen we’ve brought in—we’ve been making preparations,” head coach Jim Tomsula said recently, per CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. “This isn’t a this year thing for us. We’ve been making preparations. A guy gets to 12 years in the National Football League and he’s about a 92-percent rep count playing defensive line, you better start making preparations. That started a while ago.”

Those preparations included bringing in veteran defensive end and long-time divisional rival Darnell Dockett, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. Dockett missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL but will be ready to rumble for the season opener in 2015.

Additionally, general manager Trent Baalke has been drafting young defensive linemen the past few years. The big names among that group are Tank Carradine and this year’s first-round pick, Arik Armstead. Both young defensive ends have the potential to become stars in their own right.

Smith’s 14-year career puts him the discussion for the NFL’s Hall of Fame.

Splitting time evenly between the Cincinnati Bengals and 49ers, the man known as “Cowboy” was the model of consistency throughout his career. Racking up 613 tackles and 87 sacks, he was voted to five Pro Bowls and one First-Team All-Pro squad.

Now that Smith is finally retired, the 49ers will need Dockett, Carradine, Armstead and the others on the defensive line to step up in a huge way in order to fill his massive shoes. An anchor in the run game and a pocket-pusher on passing downs, Smith’s presence will be greatly missed.

Photo: USA Today Sports