Friday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers announced they were going to exercise their option on Aldon Smith's contract. The move extended their control over Smith through the 2015 season. Smith could become one of the highest paid players on the team at that point, but this move also creates a decent amount of flexibility for the franchise as they figure out what he is doing with his life.
Over the last month, there has been a lot of chatter about what the 49ers would do with the option. The general belief for much of April was that the 49ers were not going to exercise the option. Some local, and a lot of national media felt like the 49ers were inclined not to exercise the option as a way to teach Aldon some kind of lesson about his behavior.
Over the last week, we've seen back-tracking on this thought process. And once the 49ers announced they were exercising the option, this went into over-drive, as various media personalities stated the 49ers had met with Smith and that meeting had helped change opinions. We saw two mentions of the 49ers reported meeting with Smith:
Source: Aldon Smith met face-to-face with Trent Baalke today. Baalke informed the rest of the front office that everything went well.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 2, 2014
2 days ago, Aldon Smith & #49ers GM Trent Baalke had a very real, intense conversation about his future. Smith’s response keyed this move— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 2, 2014
Who knows what Aldon had to say, but whenever this meeting did in fact occur, it would seem like the 49ers heard what they wanted to hear. We don't know how the NFL will come down on this, and we still don't know how the Santa Clara DA will handle the situation, but this is one hurdle cleared. In the meantime, here is where we stand on a variety of issues:
Aldon's personal life
We want to think strictly about football, but this delves into Aldon Smith's personal life as well. The big question now is whether he can keep his head on straight. Some view picking up the option as some kind of reward, others view it as maintaining a certain level of control over Smith. Whatever the case, Aldon needs to figure his life out. Hopefully the reported meeting with Trent Baalke put the fear of God in him, and he's prepared to figure out what he needs to do to have some measure of success in life.
We know he's a beast of a pass rusher. Now it's a matter of figuring out how to avoid derailing his career. I won't begin to pretend that I can tell him how to develop that kind of focus. I just hope he figures it out because his talent is undeniable.
Aldon's contract is worth $9.754 million in 2015. The contract is guaranteed only for injury right now. If he is on the roster at the start of the 2015 league year (mid-March), the contract becomes fully guaranteed. That means if he got in trouble after the new league next year, if the 49ers released him, he would be due the entirety of the contract.
His option has no impact on his 2014 salary. He will receive his $2,336,454 in salary. The 49ers can renegotiate his contract, which means they could change what he will make in 2014, an the option in 2015, but I doubt we see any kind of new deal otherwise.
What if Aldon gets in trouble moving forward?
If Aldon does something stupid, the 49ers can get out of the deal, and not be on the hook for the $9.754 million. In exercising the option, the 49ers retain control over Aldon Smith in 2015, but provide themselves with an out if they decide that is how they want to move forward. For a significant stretch, a lot of media believed the team would not exercise the option. When the option was exercised, many of them changed tunes to some extent, claiming the 49ers had thought it through and changed their minds.
Personally, I think there was some question about the option, but I don't think the team was more inclined to not exercise it. They needed to discuss the situation, and have a face-to-face with Aldon, but I still think the team was hoping they would find the reasons to pick up option. And, after whatever discussion, they did.
Moving forward with the 2014 NFL Draft
There will be some chatter from national media following this decision. Some will provide their hot take as to why the 49ers made a mistake. Others will recognize the reality of the situation and be prepared to move forward. Whatever the case, the 49ers have made their decision and are ready to move forward.
I still think the outside linebacker position is one they consider in the 2014 NFL Draft. Aldon Smith is still not a lock for the 2015 roster, but additionally, Ahmad Brooks is not getting any younger. I don't think the 49ers go first round at outside linebacker, but I think it is on the radar as they move into the draft in a few days. It will still be interesting to see if this whole situation impacts their draft strategy moving forward.
How do you view the outside linebacker position heading into next week's draft?