Under the fifth year of his top-10 rookie deal, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was due to earn a fully guaranteed (as of Tuesday) base salary of $9.754 million. He’ll now earn that money only if he’s on the roster for the entire season.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Smith has converted his salary to a series of roster bonuses and salary that ultimately will pay him up to $9.754 million.
The specifics aren’t presently known. Maiocco explains that Smith will receive “incremental” bonuses, starting in April. He’ll earn $2 million before the start of the regular season. The balance of the $9.754 million will come from base salary and 53-man roster bonuses paid throughout the season.
It means that, in return for a $2 million advance paid out from April through August, the 49ers will have the ability to cut Smith and avoid all or part of the money.
“It wasn’t like they said, ‘If you don’t do this, you’re cut,’” agent Doug Hendrickson told Maiocco. “The thought behind it is that Aldon realizes he’s been his own worst enemy. He has come a long way since he was suspended. His ultimately his goal, my goal and the team’s goal is for him to sign a long-term contract with the Niners. . . .
“He’s basically saying, ‘I’m willing to bet on myself that I will not do anything stupid.'”
It’s possible Smith already did something stupid by betting on himself. What does he gain if the bet pays off? Nothing more than he would have been entitled to as of Tuesday.
Smith’s decision suggests that something other than a “bet on himself” is happening. The fact that Smith will start collecting portions of money he otherwise wouldn’t have seen until the regular season starts suggests that Smith may have wanted (or perhaps needed) to trade financial security for cold, hard cash. The fact that he gave up $9.754 million guaranteed for $9.754 million non-guaranteed suggests that, even without an ultimatum from the team, Smith may have been concerned that he would have been released before Tuesday.
It’s possible that the payoff will be a long-term deal with the 49ers before his rookie deal expires and Smith becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency. Based on the grossly team-friendly deal that the 49ers foisted upon Colin Kaepernick last year, however, Smith could be better off forcing his way to the open market, where pass rushers who have racked up 44 career sacks in 50 career games don’t have to bet on themselves in order to get paid.