After making a move to strengthen their defense earlier in the day, the 49ers have made a second, more finance-based, transaction, as linebacker Aldon Smith has agreed to restructure his contract, reports Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. Smith was set to earn $9.754MM in 2015 after San Francisco exercised his fifth-year option — per Barrows, he’ll earn the same amount next season, but none of that money will be guaranteed.
Smith’s salary would have become fully guaranteed on Tuesday; because it was a result of a fifth-year option decision, his salary had been protected for injury only during the offseason. However, Smith’s new deal appears to be structured a bit differently, as it’s broken up into monthly bonuses beginning in April, and weekly bonuses during the season, adds Barrows.
The reported deal is interesting for several reasons, the first of which is that it allows the 49ers to release Smith with limited financial ramifications, which makes this restructure an appealing move given Smith’s history of off-the-field incidents. Second, as Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com tweets, the transaction indicates that Smith himself is confident he’ll remain on the Niners roster for the entirety of the season, thus earning his full paycheck.
Third, as Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap notes (Twitter link), the restructure could create a bit of cap room for San Francisco, for the time being at least, if Smith’s bonuses are of the per-game variety as indicated. Per-game bonuses are considered likely-to-be-earned based on the percentage of games the player was active during the previous season — Smith was active for nine games, so the 49ers will only have to carry 9/16 of his bonus on their cap for now.
While the concerns with Smith are obvious, he is a dominant player when on the field, as evidenced by his 33.5 sacks during his first two years in the NFL. If he can remain clean off-the-field, I’d imagine the Niners would look into extending him during the season. Meanwhile, San Francisco is near the bottom of the league in terms of cap space, with only about $6.5MM to work with, so this move should create a little more room.