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49ers decision looming for Aldon Smith contract option

The San Francisco 49ers have some roster decisions to make this coming offseason, including whether or not to pick up Aldon Smith's fifth-year option. We break down what it means. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers have several contract decisions to begin addressing this coming offseason, most notably the next contracts for Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith. Kap and Smith are two of the most notable members of the 2011 NFL Draft that are up for new contracts beginning this coming offseason.

The 2011 NFL Draft was the first to institute the rookie wage scale under the new labor agreement. One additional aspect of the deal prevented rookies from negotiating contract extensions until after they had completed three seasons of their rookie deal. Kap and Smith join Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter, Daniel Kilgore and Bruce Miller among players eligible for a new deal when this season ends.

Beyond just extensions, the 49ers have one additional decision with regard to Aldon Smith. The rookie contracts under the new agreement are four years, but first round picks have an option for a fifth year. The fifth year option varies based on where a player was selected. For players selected in the top ten, the fifth year is worth the 2014 transition-tag number at their position. For players selected in spots 11-32, it's worth the average of the third to 25th highest paid players at their position. The team has from just after the 2013 season ends to May 3 to make the decision whether to exercise the option.

Albert Breer reported on this, primarily to discuss the potential $14 million transition tag number for Cam Newton's option. He did not have the transition number for linebackers. He did report the franchise tag number is projected at $11 million. The transition tag number would be less than this. It is also worth noting the numbers are not completely finalized until the actual cap is set for the new league year.

Per Breer, if the 49ers elect to pick up the option this offseason, it is only guaranteed for injury at this point. The option year becomes guaranteed for skill and cap if Aldon Smith is still on the roster on the first day of the 2015 league year.

At the start of this season, picking up the option would seem to be a no-brainer. It guarantees Aldon is around for a fifth year, but also means the team can negotiate a new deal with the knowledge that they are not yet entirely on the hook for that money. Given what has gone down this season, I'm not sure what the 49ers plan on doing. Trent Baalke has said the team wants to keep Aldon, and their handling of his rehab (reportedly paying him his full salary while on the NFI list), would seem to imply as much. It makes for an interesting decision, and could tell us something about where things stand between the two parties.