After wrapping up his fourteenth NFL season later today, 49ers defensive end Justin Smith is expected to retire, reports Alex Flanagan of NBC (Twitter link). Smith, 35, has spent the past seven years in San Francisco after playing the first half of his career with the Bengals.
A first-round pick out of Missouri in 2001, Smith was a fixture on a mid-2000s Cincinnati team that made the playoffs just once during his tenure. In 2008, he joined the 49ers on a six-year, $45MM contract, and became a stalwart of SF’s defensive line, playing at both tackle and end in the Niners’ 3-4 scheme. An extremely durable player, Smith has missed just three games during his career. All told, he’s started 216 games, racking up 87 sacks, 613 tackle, and 16 forced fumbles.
Even in his final season, Smith grades out well according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, rating as the ninth-best 3-4 defensive end among 46 qualifiers (subscription required). Per PFF, he was dominant from 2009-11, when he graded as the No. 1 overall 3-4 DE each season.
Losing Smith will be just blow to the 49ers defense during the offseason. Head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio are expected to depart, fellow defensive lineman Ray McDonald was released following sexual assault allegations, and most of the club’s reliable cornerbacks are unrestricted free agents.