Aldon Smith contract: Option year on the table

Al Messerschmidt

Aldon Smith is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract. We break down what this means for his option year and potential extension.

This offseason will feature plenty of contract discussion, as the 49ers have numerous players under contract, but in line for an extension. Colin Kaepernick is the most prominent of them, but Aldon Smith is just as intriguing a situation. Both players have reasons to get them extended, but also reasons to potentially wait it out.

Both players are eligible for a contract extension, but while Colin Kaepernick is entering the walk year of his contract, the 49ers have more options with Aldon Smith. The current collective bargaining agreement sacrificed big rookie contracts, and provided teams with a greater level of control over many of the rookies. All picks sign four year deals that cannot be renegotiated until the close of the regular season of the player's third year. Additionally, teams hold an option on their first round pick(s) that they can exercise with only limited guarantees for the player. The team has from the close of the regular season until May 3 to exercise this option.

For picks in the top ten of the first round, which includes Smith, the fifth year option equals the Transition tag tender that applies in the player's fourth year in the league. It applies to the position at which the player played at in his third year. Franchise and transition tag amounts probably will not be officially announced until March. In the meantime, we can look at last year to get an idea of the amount. For all linebackers, the 2013 Transition tag amount was $8,358,000. Joel Corry thinks the number is expected to be around $9.6 million this year, but we'll wait and see what the new league year brings.

Aldon Smith heads into the fourth year of his contract with a cap figure of $4,576,727. He is due a base salary of $2,336,454. His cap figure comes from that and the remaining $2,240,273 in pro-rated signing bonus. If the 49ers exercise the option, his cap figure would be that entire $9.6 million. The option year becomes guaranteed for injury at the time it is exercised. It becomes guaranteed for skill, injury and cap-related termination if the player is on the team's roster at the start of the league year of that fifth season (so mid-March of 2015).

The 49ers have a couple decisions to make with regard to Aldon Smith. First, do they exercise the fifth-year option, and second, how much do they try and extend him for since he will at some point hit free agency. The first decision seems pretty easy to me. Whether the 49ers want to sign him long-term or not, you get that option locked up just to have yourself covered and buy more negotiating time, if needed.

As for signing Aldon long term? The two issues with that are his off-the-field problems, and the cost of signing arguably the best pure pass rusher in the NFL. The first issue is hopefully being cleaned up. He went to rehab, and while his substance issues will likely be a life-long battle, so far he seems to be doing OK for himself. Steve over at Bay Area Sports Guy had an interesting article on this, discussing some of his own observations of Aldon.

The latter issue is where problems could arise. There are arguments to be made about the best pass rusher in the league, but for now, I provide this:

The 49ers have a lot of contract issues to deal with, and a lot of money they will be committing to young talent. I honestly don't know if Aldon Smith will get a long-term deal. The 49ers cannot sign every single young player to a monster contract. There will be some big contracts dispensed, but they have to decide who they can replace with cheap, young talent in the draft. The 49ers window for a championship remains open, but the salary cap work is going to get more difficult in the coming months and years.

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