Jason LaCanfora took some time to put together what he viewed as the eleven best and eleven worst contracts across the NFL. The 49ers have done an excellent job with their contracts in recent years, but one contract from the sort of grey period when things were changing in the front office is Justin Smith. The all-world defensive lineman was listed among the 11 best bargains:
Justin Smith, DE, 49ers, $6.375M: Smith is heading into his third season after redoing his deal, but man if he isn't outperforming it again. He might have been the best defensive player in the NFL last season, and certainly was the central figure in San Francisco's resurgence. Without his wrecking-ball presence, I can't help but wonder if those linebackers would be as effective. Among all defensive ends, Smith stands 12th in average per year, and when Julius Peppers sets the market at this position at $14 million a year, Smith is certainly worth more than half that. He'll cost the 49ers a very manageable $8 million in 2013. Guys like Calais Campbell will pull in $17 million in 2012 alone, including bonuses, and Glenn Dorsey will make more on a cash basis than Smith this season.
It will be interesting to see how the 49ers approach Justin Smith's contract status as 2014 approaches. He is playing arguably the best football of his career. He is 32, turning 33 in September. Once players get into their 30s it is rather difficult to project out any sort of performance. Their performance could continue at a high level, or it could quickly go off a cliff.
Justin Smith addressed his future during the team's full-squad minicamp: "three more good years in me, four more good years. I don't want to be the guy who becomes the third down guy who plays 17 (snaps). I don't want to do that. I'm figuring let's go, you know?"
I have to think the 49ers will be looking to ink Justin Smith to one more contract. Although Smith could very well change his mind about continuing to play, this would seem to put both sides in a strong position for wrapping up a deal over the next two years. If Smith maintains his high level of play into 2013, a two or three year extension would seem to be in the best interest of both sides. There's no guarantees this will get wrapped up quickly, but there is some reason for confidence.