Justin Smith has been around the NFL long enough to know that the landscape of the league changes quickly.
Plenty of teams have risen and fallen during Smith’s 11 years as a professional including his own 49ers last year. They went to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and lost in overtime of the NFC Championship Game to the Giants. Smith wants to be sure that his teammates understand that things don’t stay that way forever as they prepare for the 2012 season.
“The mindset that I’ve been spreading a little bit to the guys is, you know, your team isn’t always stacked forever,” said Smith, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “With free agency (and) the way drafts are set up — if you have successful seasons you get the lower end of the draft — you have certain windows. You don’t want to get into, ‘Is this our window? Do we have two years, three years?’ I wouldn’t say that. I know with some of the guys we have and with free agency, we’re not going to be able to keep this team together forever. Even age-wise, the whole team won’t be the same.”
The 49ers have been able to keep the core of last year’s team intact, including all 11 starters on defense. That is an unusual thing in the current NFL and something that gives the 49ers a leg up on their attempt to repeat as NFC West champs this season. It also helps that Smith is the oldest player on the unit at 32 and that only two other starters are over 30, something that should help guard against too many rapid declines from last season’s key players.
None of that makes what Smith says any less true, however. This is a moment for the 49ers to grab with both hands because there’s no guarantee that things will stay this good in San Francisco for too much longer.