SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers are open to defensive lineman Justin Smith keeping alive the possibility of an in-season return to the playing field, sources told CSNBayArea.com.
Smith, 35, a 14-year veteran, is leaning toward retirement but also wants to do everything he can to help the team, according to a source close to Smith.
Smith did not practice on Wednesdays during the regular season, and he feels his body has been wearing down in recent seasons, according to sources. Smith is scheduled to enter the final year of a three-year extension he negotiated for himself in June 2013.
The 49ers would explore the possibility of placing Smith on an injury list at the beginning of training camp in late-July so that his body will have time to recover with no practices during training camp, a team source told CSN Bay Area’s Mindi Bach.
Smith could also begin the regular season on a reserve list, which would make him ineligible for at least six weeks of the regular season. The 49ers would like to keep Smith fresh and provide for an opportunity for him to make a late-season return to give a boost to the team.
The 49ers would be in line for a $4.25 million cap savings if Smith decides to retire.
On Tuesday, seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis cited the health of his feet for giving him the signal to announce his retirement.