On Sunday, we reported that the 49ers haven’t decided whether to pick up the 2015 option on linebacker Aldon Smith’s contract. Since then, more pessimistic accounts have emerged.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reported that it’s “very unlikely” the option will be exercised. Earlier on Friday, Adam Schefter of ESPN explained that the 49ers are “not expected” to extend the contract from a four-year deal to a five-year deal.
Per a league source with knowledge of the team’s thinking, however, the 49ers still haven’t made a decision. And they don’t have to make a decision until May 3, the deadline for picking up the option.
The option-year salary of $9.75 million for Smith would be guaranteed for injury only until the first day of the 2015 league year. At that point, it would become fully guaranteed for 2015.
Until then, the 49ers would owe Smith the money only if he suffers an injury that would render him unable to play not only this year but next year. And if they decide to trade him at some point, the 49ers would be able to send to Smith’s new team a contract that covers more than one year.
Other than avoiding the small risk of a two-year injury, the only potential benefit of not exercising the option would be motivational. The Lions, for instance, aren’t using it for defensive tackle Nick Fairley, in order to prompt him to play hard as he chases a long-term deal. For Smith, who has 42 sacks in 43 career regular-season games, it’s not about on-field motivation; it’s about staying out of trouble. The opportunity to earn $9.75 million in 2015 should provide all the motivation he needs in that regard.
Regardless, no decision has been made. Yet. The 49ers have roughly two weeks to deliberate.