Fooch's note: Site decorum is off for the next few days while we settle from today's news, and prepare for the start of free agency. No personal attacks, but swearing will be allowed for now.
Monday morning, word got out that San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith was expected to retire. Since then, Matt Barrows had a chance to speak with him during his daily workout, and Smith said he is not yet 100 percent certain of his decision. Smith told Barrows he would probably decide by next week.
Shortly after Barrows posted Smith's comments, Fox Sports NFL reporter Mike Garafolo and ESPN's Jim Trotter chimed in on the topic. Both reported the team is exploring options to limit the physical toll on Justin Smith to allow him to play again.
49ers would explore options to limit the physical toll on Justin Smith to allow him to play again. Limited practice sked one possibility.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 9, 2015
SF says it has not been told by Justin Smith that he's retiring. Smith has gone back & forth. Team working on ways (NFI?) to entice him back— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) March 9, 2015
Trotter mentioned the NFI list, and Garafolo mentioned a limited practice schedule. Over the last couple years, Smith has already been on a limited practice schedule compared to other players. As the season has worn on, he has frequently sat out Wednesday practices. It is possible the team could add in Thursday's off as well. He can learn the playbook and handle his business without as much practice, so that is one option. He can spend those days just doing strength and conditioning work, while also learning the game plan for the week.
Trotter mentioned the NFI list, and that actually could make a lot of sense. The 49ers could place him on the NFI list at the start of training camp, and that would remove him from the 53-man roster through at least the first six weeks of the season. The team could then activate him during the ensuing weeks (NFI and PUP rules explained HERE). That would allow Smith to avoid the bumps and bruises of the first couple months of the season. Sure, he could get injured after that, but removing the first six or more weeks of wear and tear opens the door for him to be fresher longer.
From a financial perspective, the NFI list would make sense. The 49ers would not have to pay Smith during that time. If he decides during that time he definitely does not want to come back, so be it. But the team can effectively factor him out of the team, but have the possibility in place for a short term return. It would sort of be like when Roger Clemens would play only part of the season for the Houston Astros during the latter part of his career.