Fooch's note: Site decorum is off
After months of waiting, we finally have an answer. San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith has decided to retire. The team announced it Monday afternoon. Smith walks away after 14 years in the NFL, the last seven of which he spent with the 49ers. Smith was a five-time Pro Bowler, and named All-Pro three times, including at both defensive end and defensive tackle in 2011 and 2012. He was named SI Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
Fooch's update: The team sent along some quotations from Trent Baalke, Jim Tomsula, and Jed York
"Justin is the consummate professional whose impact on this organization can never be measured by statistics alone," said 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. "His durability, competitiveness, work ethic, strength and rare stamina helped set him apart over his 14-year career. Cowboy will go down as one of the best to ever wear a 49ers uniform and his candidness, work ethic and pure passion for the game will be missed. We wish the very best for him and his family!"
"As a football coach, you will always be searching for the next Justin Smith, knowing full well you will never find a player quite like him," said 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula. "Everybody knows about his toughness, durability, and instincts, but his greatest attribute does not get the attention it deserves. Justin never concerned himself with personal accomplishments, his unselfish nature made that impossible. People like to say ‘they broke the mold with him' but there was never a mold. Justin Smith is a hand-crafted football player."
"Tough. Physical. Durable. Hard-working. Dedicated. Selfless. Justin embodies each of those qualities and brought even more with him to work each and every day," said 49ers CEO Jed York. "Whether it was chasing down a wide receiver and forcing a fumble to seal a win, or driving a tackle back into the quarterback's chest, he gave everything he had every play. Justin has earned the respect of the entire NFL community and he will always be remembered as one of the 49ers all-time greats."
There have been rumors of Smith's potential retirement dating back to the final week of the 2014 season. Since those first rumors started percolating, Jim Tomsula and Trent Baalke repeatedly said they would give Smith all the time and space he needed. Tomsula indicated this was not the first year Smith has pondered retirement. Over the last two seasons, he has dealt with multiple injuries that have slowed him down to some extent. The timing makes sense as Smith previously said he did not want to be a part-time player at the end of his career.
For the 49ers, Smith's decision clears $4,250,000 in cash, and $3,665,000 in cap space. The latter number is due to the Top 51 rule, which adds a lower salary into the top 51 with his removal. The team now moves forward trying to replace one of the great defensive linemen of the last decade.
The team signed Darnell Dockett to a two-year contract. They also have a versatile Glenn Dorsey who can play all across the line. After that, there is a whole lot of young talent. Tank Carradine has been the big "name" the last couple years, but took some time to finally get on the field. Quinton Dial spent a lot of time at nose tackle last season to injuries to Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey, but Jim Tomsula has said he could fit in that 3-4 defensive end role. Tony Jerod-Eddie has significant versatility, although he seems better-suited for a reserve role. And of course, the team invested a first round pick in Arik Armstead this year. He seems likely to take this first year to further build up his body and better understand how it works to be a defensive lineman in the NFL.
It will be interesting to see in a few years how Justin Smith is viewed by Hall of Fame voters. I don't think he will get into the Hall of Fame right away, if at all, but it will be interesting to see if he advances beyond the initial candidates stage. There are multiple votes down to semifinalists, finalists and then the inductees. Smith has always been a great defensive lineman, and for a short stretch he was arguably the best in the business. However, that stretch of "the best" was probably not long enough for HOF voters to give him the nod. We'll see if perceptions change over time.
We'll have plenty more on the great career of Justin Smith, but for now I'll leave you with a couple of my favorite Smith GIFs.