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After a couple weeks of intrigue, the 49ers ultimately made the decision that appeared to be the obvious choice all along.
The 49ers exercised the fifth-year option on star outside linebacker Aldon Smith on Friday, the club announced. Smith has been taking part in the 49ers’ offseason program in Santa Clara.
General manager Trent Baalke stated last week that it was his hope the 49ers could keep Smith around past the 2015 season. The 49ers secured Smith’s rights through the 2015 with their decision to pick up the fifth-year option of $9.754 million for the 2015 season.
If the 49ers had failed to exercise the option, Smith would have been scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
On the field, Smith has been one of the top players in the history of his position through three NFL seasons. However, off the field Smith has given the 49ers plenty of reasons to be concerned about his future.
Smith missed five games a year ago while on a voluntary leave of absence to seek treatment for substance abuse last season. He faces three felony guns charges in Santa Clara Superior Court, as well as a misdemeanor DUI in September. The Los Angeles Attorney’s office is also contemplating a misdemeanor charge of making a false report of a bomb threat stemming from an April 13 incident at Los Angeles International Airport.
[RELATED: Baalke pledges support for Aldon Smith]
Smith could also be subject to an NFL suspension this season under the league’s personal conduct or substance abuse policies.
Baalke foreshadowed the 49ers’ decision last week when he met with reporters to speak about the upcoming draft. Baalke made it known that he was not giving up on Smith despite his string off off-field issues dating back to January 2012 when he was arrested for DUI in Miami.
“Can I make it any clearer?” Baalke said.
“I’m a firm believer in the humanistic approach to everything. You continue to work, just like you would with any family member. We’re a family. You just don’t open the door and toss people out of it. You continue to work until they leave you no choice.”
League-wide 21 players had their fifth-year options exercised, and Smith rates among the top producers from that draft. Smith recorded 42 quarterback sacks in his first 43 regular-season games and was the 49ers’ MVP in 2012.
The $9.754 million salary is guaranteed for injury only. The 49ers can still cut Smith before the start of the 2015 league year to avoid paying his salary. Also, the 49ers retained his rights for 2015 to keep alive the possibility of a trade.