As you might have heard, one of the popular rumors around the NFL on Friday evening was the rumor that former San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith wanted to return to the NFL a year into his retirement. That rumor, from Pro Football Talk, also suggested that Smith would not want to play for the 49ers if he did return.
There are a couple things worth noting when it comes to that point. The first, and most obvious, is that the 49ers would retain Smith's rights and thus he would have no choice unless the team allowed him to vacate that deal or worked out a trade. I don't ever see that happening because no team is going to trade for a guy who was already slowing down big time and is now a year out of the league.
The second is this: does Smith have a grudge against the 49ers? I sincerely doubt it. I never heard anything about Smith holding a grudge against the 49ers or anything suggesting that he felt like the organization did him wrong by any stretch of the imagination. I think it's being portrayed in a light that doesn't make sense for reasons other than clarity. Smith could very well not want to play for the 49ers, but my gut tells me that Smith would simply want to play for a contender.
I doubt there is any bad blood there, especially with a new coaching staff in town.
But the third and final thing is simple: the 49ers don't need Smith anyway. If he wanted to return to the league, I'd personally be more than happy for the 49ers to go out, look for a late-round pick and if nobody bites, release Smith and be done with it.
Quinton Dial and Ian Williams are two young, exciting defensive linemen and then there's Arik Armstead, last year's first-round pick who needs to take the next step this season. The 49ers are expected to add another rookie to the mix this year and then there are any number of guys, like Tony Jerrod-Eddie, Tank Carradine and others, who have to offer something close to what Smith would at this point in his career.
Don't get me wrong ... what Smith brought to the 49ers was immeasurable in a lot of ways. He was a leader, he was a veteran presence who made the players around him better. But he was clearly slowing down and clearly retired at the right time.
The 49ers have moved on. Smith has moved on. If he wants to return, he can do whatever he wants as far as I'm concerned. I just wanted to get out there and say that I cannot see Smith being the type to hold some kind of grudge like the one that has been implied since the rumor started.