Yes, the new contract signed by 49ers defensive end Justin Smith creates $4.5 million in cap space. But before anyone declares the contract to be a win-win, a couple of open questions remain.
First, the $1.4 million roster bonuses due and payable to Smith in 2014 and 2015 may be, we’re told, tied to Smith’s ability to suit up and play every week. If so, that’s $87,500 per game that Smith won’t be paid if he’s on the inactive list due to injury.
Second, if Smith decides to retire after either of the next two years, the conversion of $6.56 million from base salary to a signing bonus could, in theory, put Smith in position to have to pay a lot of money back to the team. (If he retires after 2013, the number would be $4.37 million; after 2014, if would be $2.18 million.) It remains to be seen whether the contract was written to allow Smith to retire and keep the full signing bonus.
Either way, it’s a big win for the 49ers, who can now carry the extra cap dollars to 2014, when both linebacker Aldon Smith and quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be eligible for new contracts. It’s expected that each player will push to have current compensation packages limited by the rookie wage scale adjusted to reflect their value to the team.
And so, in time, the guy for whom Justin Smith has been tying up blockers won’t just be collecting sacks due to Justin Smith’s willingness to help the team. Aldon Smith will be collecting cash, too.