Although Aldon Smith’s future is in doubt because of multiple off-field issues, the 49ers have given him a vote of confidence today by exercising the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
That doesn’t mean Smith will definitely be with the 49ers into 2015, but it does mean the 49ers want to have the ability to keep him around. The 2015 option is guaranteed only for injury, meaning the 49ers could still cut him and not have to pay him in 2015, as long as he’s able to pass a physical. The 49ers would also not have to pay him if he is unable to play because of legal issues or an NFL suspension.
The option gives Smith a $9.75 million salary in 2015. That’s a lot of money, but he’s worth it if he plays the way he’s capable of playing. At his best, Smith is one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers.
But at his worst, Smith is a guy who can’t stay out of trouble. From multiple drunk driving arrests to felony charges of illegally possessing assault weapons to allegedly making a false bomb threat at an airport, Smith has repeatedly given the 49ers off-field headaches. The 49ers’ decision today is a sign that they think he has a chance to put his off-field issues behind him, but it doesn’t wed them to Smith going forward if he can’t clean up his act.