The San Francisco 49ers have been dedicated to giving defensive lineman Justin Smith all the time he needs to make a decision about whether he will return for an eighth, and likely final, season with the team. Now, Smith has said there is a timetable for his decision, telling Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee on Monday that “You’ll know in about three weeks or so,” whether he will play in 2015.
Smith, a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro, was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in Round 1 of the 2001 draft. He spent seven years in Cincinnati before joining the 49ers in 2008. He has chosen not to take part in the 49ers’ offseason workouts, though he is working out on his own and, according to Barrows, he “looks like he’s in excellent shape.” Barrows, however, cautions that this isn’t an indication that Smith will play for one more year, noting that Smith would “work out regularly for health reasons” regardless.
Barrows also notes that the Niners’ drafting of defensive tackle Arik Armstead in Round 1 will not influence Smith’s decision either way, especially considering that Smith would only be back for one additional season and nothing more. San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke also confirmed that the drafting of Armstead is not directly related to Smith’s status, saying:
We gave Justin liberty to make his own decision on his time frame. We went into the draft not thinking about what decision Justin’s going to make or not going to make. We just went in to find the best football player, the best system fit that we could.
Smith is 35 years old and will turn 36 in September. Injuries have mounted for him in recent years, including triceps and shoulder ailments that limited his production in 2012 and 2013, though they only cost him two games’ worth of playing time. He has totaled 880 tackles on his career and 87 sacks, with 414 combined tackles and 43.5 sacks during his tenure with the 49ers.
Bringing on Armstead was a good move for San Francisco no matter what Smith decides, given the rebuilding effort underway along much of its front seven. But Armstead will prove to be even more valuable if Smith chooses to retire, something we should know for sure by the end of the month.
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