Justin Smith found a new home when he joined the San Francisco 49ers, and he is not quite ready to leave yet.
After coming close to getting his first Super Bowl ring in February, the 12-year veteran decided he has a couple more years left in the tank. Smith signed a two-year extension on Wednesday.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, Smith was entering the final year of his contract. ESPN said Smith was unsure of his future in the league last week. Smith told reporters that he had to play out the season, and he will “enjoy” this season. Now he will be a 49er through the 2015 season.
Before the 49ers made their return to the playoffs in January 2012, Justin Smith was one of the most underrated players in the league. However, Smith’s teammates and fans always appreciated his work. San Francisco 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke said, “Justin’s All-Pro contributions on the field, as well as his leadership on and off the field, are integral to our success as a team. Justin consistently sets a standard of excellence, serving as an example for everyone within our organization. This contract allows Justin to finish his career as a 49er!”
It was a win-win deal for Smith and the 49ers. Smith needed the 49ers to continue his career, and the 49ers need him. Smith is a vital part of the 49ers defense. According to the 49ers website, Smith has been a dominating force on the defensive line. Smith is a two-time All-Pro, and made four Pro Bowls. He has the most solo tackles (792) out of any defensive lineman who has been playing or has entered the league in 2001, the year in which Smith was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. Since Smith joined the 49ers in 2008, he recorded 536 total tackles, 32 sacks, one interception, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and nine passes defended.
These stats do not reflect how tough Smith’s job is. Since Smith has been such a beast, opposing offenses need to send two or three guys to contain him. Meanwhile, this allows linebackers NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Patrick Willis to rack up tackles and sacks. Instead of complaining, Smith relishes the role, which has earned the respect of his teammates. Now Smith is receiving respect from around the league, and the recognition he deserves. NFL Network voted Smith to be the 29th best player in the NFL this year. He was 17th on last year’s rankings.
However, this may be a risky move for the 49ers. Smith is old, and coming off a tricep injury. Yet, it was the right move because the defense relies so much on his presence up front. With a healthy Justin Smith, the 49ers only averaged giving up only 15.4 points per game. In the games without Smith or a Smith who was not 100%, the 49ers averaged allowing 28.8 points per game. Granted they had a tough opponents, as it was playoff time, but clearly they were not as effective. If Smith stays healthy this season, the 49ers will be Super Bowl contenders. If not, then the Seattle Seahawks will run away with the NFC West, and maybe the 49ers do not even make the playoffs.