San Francisco’s Justin Smith Retires, 49ers Exodus Continues
After plenty of speculation, 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith has officially retired after fourteen seasons in the NFL.
Smith was drafted fourth overall out of Missouri in 2001 by the Cincinnati Bengals, where he spent the first seven years of his career. However, he did not get mainstream notice until he was signed by the the 49ers in the 2008 free agency. And under then defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, he would go to five consecutive pro bowls.
But despite never missing more than three games in his entire career, injuries began to limit his output over the last few years: a partially torn triceps in 2012 caused him to miss a game for the first time since his rookie year and in 2014 a back ailment limited his snap count in the second-half of the season.
“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,” 49ers CEO Jed York said in a press release. “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.”
In his 14-year career, Justin Smith garnered 880 combined tackles, 87 sacks and 16 forced fumbles.
He is the third defensive player from the San Francisco 49ers to retire this offseason, but at least this one was somewhat expected. Both Chris Borland and Patrick Willis‘ retirements came out of nowhere: the former was supposed to help with the departure of the latter, yet the young 24-year-old decided to retire after doing head trauma research.
On top of this, Smith is the sixth high-profile departure from the 49ers this offseason: on top of the retirements, they lost Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati in free agency.
Now, they have attempted to fill out some of the holes through free agency, signing Torrey Smith, Reggie Bush and Darnell Dockett. But will it be enough? Almost instantly, the linebacker core went from a top five to downright questionable and who knows if the 49ers defense can recover from that.
Either way, 2015 will be interesting for San Fran, especially in arguably the toughest division in football.