Defensive lineman Justin Smith’s future with the 49ers remains in question. And his decision for this season could have a dramatic impact on outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who is scheduled to enter his fifth-year option season.
After all, Justin Smith deserves some credit for Aldon Smith’s early career success. Justin Smith mostly lines up on the same side as Aldon Smith, and he has an incredible knack for selflessly tying up blockers to allow Aldon Smith either single-blocks or free runs at the quarterback.
[RELATED: Justin Smith regularly visits 49ers facility]
Aldon Smith’s 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons are the most for any player in NFL history. And he entered his fourth NFL season with 42 sacks in his first 43 regular-season games.
There was no reason for the 49ers to decline the fifth-year option on Aldon Smith last offseason despite his numerous missteps off the field. While he is scheduled to make $9.754 million this season, that figure was guaranteed for injury only.
The 49ers reserve the right to cut Smith before March 10 to avoid paying his one-year salary. In addition, because of a forfeiture of a portion of his original signing bonus, Smith played for free last season and will reportedly owe the 49ers more than $660,000 in 2015.
Aldon Smith did not produce like a high-priced player last season, but that is not a surprise after he served a nine-game suspension to open the season due to violations of the NFL’s policies on substance abuse and personal conduct.
He recorded two sacks against Washington in his second game back. But he failed to get to the quarterback in the other six games in which he appeared. According to the 49ers’ stats compiled by the coaching staff, Smith recorded just 12 quarterback pressures in seven games.
Aldon Smith remains as the 49ers’ top pass rusher -- a prime position the 49ers had difficulty filling since Charles Haley’s trade to the Dallas Cowboys two decades ago.
The 49ers have every reason to ensure Aldon Smith remains with the organization, but this is clearly a huge season for him. Justin Smith is working out regularly at the 49ers' weight room in Santa Clara. But it's not yet known whether he plans to return for a 15th NFL season. His decision for 2015 could impact Aldon Smith, who is scheduled for free agency in 2016, well beyond just this season.