Justin Smith retires

The 49ers’ best player the past seven seasons, Justin Smith, just announced his retirement.

From 2009 to 2013, Smith went to five straight Pro Bowls.  In 2011, he earned his one and only first-team All-Pro selection, and he should have won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, too.

Here’s a statement from 49ers’ general manager Trent Baalke: “Justin is the consummate professional whose impact on this organization can never be measured by statistics alone. His durability, competitiveness, work ethic, strength and rare stamina helped set him apart over his 14-year career. Cowboy will go down as one of the best to ever wear a 49ers uniform and his candidness, work ethic and pure passion for the game will be missed. We wish the very best for him and his family!”

Here’s a statement from head coach Jim Tomsula: “As a football coach, you will always be searching for the next Justin Smith, knowing full well you will never find a player quite like him. Everybody knows about his toughness, durability, and instincts, but his greatest attribute does not get the attention it deserves. Justin never concerned himself with personal accomplishments, his unselfish nature made that impossible. People like to say ‘they broke the mold with him’ but there was never a mold. Justin Smith is a hand-crafted football player.”

  1. Congratulations on a great career. Wish you’d have gotten the ring. Thanks for leading the possee, and knowing when it’s time to hang up the guns. My hope is you’ll hang around, work out and mentor A-Squared in the ways of the National Football League. God Bless brother!

    1. So did I. Exactly what I expected to happen all along. Sorry to see him go, but he was already retired when it took so long to decide.

        1. Razor,

          Definitely not what I wanted, but it was inevitable considering how long he struggled with the decision.

          1. Rocket definitely called it. I challenged the idea that he would retire several times, but was clearly wrong.

  2. We’ll miss ya Cowboy. Thanks for the great memories and I wish you all the best in your next chapter of life.

  3. Interesting tidbit from Matt Barrows article:

    “With long-time starters Smith and Ray McDonald no longer on the roster, the plan this year is to get the young defensive linemen more involved. Armstead, Quinton Dial and Tony Jerod-Eddie are in the mix at McDonald’s former spot, left defensive end. McDonald was kicked off the team in December and signed by the Bears in free agency.

    On the right side, the plan right now is for Glenn Dorsey to play on base downs and Tank Carradine to enter in nickel situations. Dockett, meanwhile, still is recovering from an ACL injury suffered in August and has not been practicing with the team.”


    Funny, sounds exactly like what I said the plan would likely be… :-)

    1. Yep, what I expected as well. I’m telling you Armstead IDub Dorsey is a very formidable front three….

      1. There is still talent on the DL. As I said the other day, I’m less confident that Armstead will win the starting gig this year, at least to start the season. But even if he doesn’t Dial has shown he is capable.

        1. Unlike you, I will be highly disappointed if Armstead cannot beat out Dial. I would venture Baalke would be as well….

    2. Then you bring in Tank and Darnell on passing downs and you have yourself a very nice NASCAR package….

      1. If Tank comes on this year that will be a real boon for this team. If he doesn’t, I fear he will end up the DL that doesn’t suit up on game days and just be another guy for another year.

          1. I hope so razor. I think it will be tough for him though. Realistically he’s one of the less versatile DL we have, so he’s going to have to stand out to suit up on game days. If all DL are healthy, it could well be between him and Armstead as to which guy doesn’t suit up on game days.

              1. Unless there is an injury in TC, I don’t think TJE makes the team. I think they’ll keep 6 DL (Dorsey, Williams, Armstead, Dockett, Dial and Tank). As usual, they will likely only suit up 5 on game day.

              2. Dockett could initially begin the season on the PUP Shelf allowing Tank an opportunity to prove himself….

              3. As I said, barring injury. Hopefully Dockett will be ready before the season starts.

              4. Maybe – but Dial offers the versatility of being able to play both end spots as well as NT in the base formation, and can slot in as the LDT in 4-man fronts.

              5. As I’ve said before, I really don’t think Armstead is an NFL NT, except possibly in rare exotic formations. Dial on the other hand can play NT in the base consistently if needed.

              6. Maybe so, but you already have two guys that can play that position consistently. IDub goes down in a game, Dorsey slides in….

              7. If Dorsey is the starting RDE, then during a game I imagine they would rather insert someone else at NT than Dorsey if Williams got hurt. Same principle as why they prefer to leave Boone at OG. It is where the player has been getting their reps all week, and you’d rather weaken one spot than two.

              8. Dorsey is a better NT than Dial, but I get what you’re saying. I just don’t think if Tank is a disruptive force that versatility will be the card that trumps him….

              9. If Williams was out for an extended period of time I’d be very surprised if Dorsey didn’t take the spot in subsequent weeks, but yeah, in game I just think they’d rather keep Dorsey at RDE if they could if that is where he’s been practicing.

                If Tank is practicing the house down and is clearly the better player than Dial, then I would expect he’d suit up. But Dial is a pretty decent player in his own right. In a close run thing I’d expect Dial to get the nod between the two due to the greater versatility he provides. This of course all assumes Armstead (or someone else) beats out Dial for the LDE job.

                If neither Armstead or Tank are starting, there is a real chance the 5th DL spot will come down to a fight between those two.

              10. It will be interesting to see if Tomsula/Mangini have a different evaluation than Fangio, and if indeed Mangini runs the defense alone or if Tomsula decides who plays and where….

              11. TJE gets no respect. He was the practice squad player that didn’t have the “potential” hype attached to him. So most think he’s just another back up place holder for a more exciting player with “potential”.

                But keep in mind he’s been the first off the bench D-lineman for the past two years. Ahead of Dial and Carradine. So the Niner’s coaching staff must consider him to be a significant back up defensive player whose skills were ahead of Dial and Carradine.

              12. TJE’s only signed through 2015, and he’s scheduled to earn just $ 585,000. He’s not a key contributor. The Niners can afford to cut him if they so choose….

              13. Dial was the starting NT for the second half of last season.

                TJE is an ok backup. The 49ers will be hoping/ expecting Tank and Dial to be better players now they’ve had the time to get acclimated.

    3. Nothing exactly ground-breaking with that article. The media must be in dry dock without any football being played.

        1. Most likely. It’s like he and the rest of his colleagues have run out of ideas for a good article.

      1. Everyone is feeling sorry for Tomsula and how he was hired as the captain that went down with the 49ers ship. I love being the underdog and underestimated. Someone is going to get punched in the mouth. My question is, will that be Tomsula or Zimmer?

    4. It’s the plan right now because Dockett isn’t able to practice. When/if he is healthy, I’d be surprised if he isn’t splitting time with Carridine. Dorsey may win the NT spot outright.

      1. I was wondering when someone would catch that part of the equation!

        I’ve always thought Dockett was brought in mostly to play on the 4-man fronts, not so much for the base defense. Will be interesting to see where/ how they play him.

        1. Ha.

          I wouldn’t have any problem with Dorsey at the 3, but I think they would rather see Tank and Dockett man that role due to better pass rush ability.

  4. Cowboy, going to miss you. One of my all time favorites. Hopefully they will retain Cowboy and have him work with double A.

  5. I have a question for Grant and all my fellow posters. Does Justin Smith make the HOF? I say yes but it will take 8 to 12 years.

    1. Old coach,

      The numbers aren’t HOF, but he is worthy. Problem is voters usually focus on the stats and personal accolades. I doubt he gets in.

  6. Two prominent leaders gone from the defensive side of the ball. Bowman needs to be the new take charge guy. Going into the offseason we knew this was going to be a very interesting time. It has lived up to expectations. Is the next move Brooks?

    1. Dockett will have a lot to say as far as leadership also. Another reason he was a good pickup for a year

    1. Justin Smith. I love B.Y. but Smith was cartoonishly dominant at his best. B.Y. was a great player with a great work ethic. I remember when he broke his leg, the stadium was so silent that you could hear him screaming on the field. Both should be HOF’s.

    2. Young for mine. Both were great players, but Young was dominant right throughout his career. Smith was seen as something of a disappointment before joining the 49ers.

        1. Yes. He was widely regarded as a good player, but one that had not lived up to his lofty draft status.

              1. He’s planning on going back to Missouri so I don’t know if he wants to coach for the 49ers. In his interview Cowboy indicated that if he does go into coaching it will be focused on strength.

              2. He does, but I don’t see the 49ers wanting to send their players to Missouri in order to be coached.

              3. If he leaves, his heart will be left behind. Shout out to my man Tony Bennett, fellow Italiano….

    3. Who is the better player between Justin Smith and Aaron Smith (former Steelers DE)?

      I think Justin has a better chance of making the HOF than Aaron, but Aaron Smith was arguably the best and the prototype for a traditional 2-gapping 3-4 DE for many years in the 2000s. He was an important component of one of the best defenses in the NFL.

      1. J.S., but A.S. was a hell of a player. Both players are highly respected by their peers. The thing that always stood out to me was that J.S. was never just standing around, he was always chasing the ball. He was like a Grizzly bear. He was capable of some truly remarkable athletic feats for a 300 lb. man.

    4. It’s closer then most realize. If you’re going by stats then Smith gets the nod. They both played in about the same amount of games in their career 208 to 221(Young/Smith) and they had nearly identical sack totals but Smith had 280 more tackles. Smith had 17 forced fumbles to Youngs 11.

      Bryant Young might be the sentimental pick but when you look closer Smith was the better player.

      1. Another thing that doesn’t get mentioned about Cowboy was his amazing endurance and ability to stay healthy. Out of 224 starts he made 221 one of them. Incredible.

        1. You’re absolutely right about that. An amazing effort on his behalf. And you can be sure that while he played in so many games, there were few where he was truly 100% healthy. Very tough man.

      2. Its a tough call, that’s for sure. I say Young as he was outstanding as a 3-tech pretty much from day 1. One of the best 4-3 3-techs in the NFL for a very long time. Justin Smith on the other hand was a very good 4-3 DE for 7 seasons at the Bengals, but was not outstanding. It wasn’t until he moved inside with the 49ers that he truly shined.

        At their very best I’d say Justin Smith was probably a little more dominant than Young, as he was an excellent run defender as well as a good power rusher. Young at his best was a more dynamic and disruptive interior pass rusher though.

        1. “Justin Smith on the other hand was a very good 4-3 DE for 7 seasons at the Bengals, but was not outstanding. It wasn’t until he moved inside with the 49ers that he truly shined.”

          The argument can be made many ways but if you want to talk stats he had more tackles the 7 years he was on the Bengals then on the 49ers and he had the exact same number of sacks with each team.

          The Cowboy has always been great.

          1. The difference being that he was an edge rusher for the Bengals and not for the 49ers. As an edge rusher the expectation was for him to be generating more sacks. He was a good 4-3 DE, but not in the elite category.

            Think of it this way – Ahmad Brooks is an edge rusher for the 49ers. He has had similar stat lines as the starting OLB/ DE in 4-man fronts for the 49ers as Justin put up as a DE for the Bengals. Is Brooks great?

            1. That comparison doesn’t play into my point Scooter which is he was seen as better then just “good” in Cincinnati. To say that he didn’t shine until coming to the 49ers isn’t really accurate. Maybe he wasn’t an elite pass rusher as a 4-3 edge but he was never considered a disappointment or just an average player at the position. He was a top free agent and was paid as such when the 49ers signed him.

              1. Didn’t finish that point. He also wasn’t an elite pass rusher as a 3-4 end and his tackle production slightly dropped off. Maybe he was better as a 4-3 end given that his 3 most productive seasons were as a Bengal, 2004-2006.

              2. Sorry CfC, but I think you are mis-remembering how Justin was perceived as a Bengal. Good player, well worthy of being a prized FA, but people in Cincy thought he hadn’t lived up to being the 4th overall pick. He was seen as more of a tough guy mauler that was very good against the run and a pretty good pass rusher (which he was) but not a truly dominant pass rush threat from the edge they expected him to be (which he wasn’t).

                This article pretty much sums it up:


              3. You could be right Scooter and I’ll leave it with this; He made less tackles and registered the same number of sacks but suddenly was seen was a top player at his position. He was always the same player the only thing that changed was the expectation.

              4. And more importantly his role. As an interior player he was more easily able to impact on the play and open things up for players around him.

              5. Maybe we’re thinking of different things when you say “interior” but his role changed in that he wasn’t the primary guy assigned to get to the QB on most plays but he was still pretty much playing from the same position which was as a 5-tech.

                I’ve searched for videos of him lining up as a Bengal and can’t find any, you’re probably better at searching then I am.

              6. For the 49ers he primarily played between the 3-tech and 5-tech spots. As a Bengal he primarily lined up as the RDE in a 4-man front. He was usually aligned outside the OT, wider than the 5-tech. Similar role to what Aldon plays on 4-man fronts.

    5. Young and Smith will both make the HOF eventually. Look how long it took for Dave Wicox to make it, Young and Smith will both take about the same amount of time.

  7. The Cowboy is one of the most dominant players I have ever seen, in any sport. A true bad ass. Whereas most people would pass out at the thought of being thrown into a pit of wolves, the Cowboy would simply estimate how pairs of boots he could fashion from their hides before he got to work on them. He’s the only guy with an Anheuser-Busch tattoo that you wouldn’t think of as white trash.

    It’s official: The team is rebuilding, not reloading.

  8. Another fail mr grant. D. Smith was not the best player last 2 yrs

    He barely played much last year. And N Bowman was a beast the year before

    1. And I actually agree….. Year before Bowman,, last year. I’d have to say overall… Borland or culliver

    1. “You guys ain’t going to get me in a room to make me cry.”

      “But you cr*p in one hand and wish in another, and see what fills up first”

      Will miss Justin big time.

  9. Greatest Justin Smith play? My vote goes to the time he tracked down Jeremy Maclin and stripped him. That was a great football play by a great football player. That play set the tone for this team for four seasons.

    1. BigP, Damnit man, you stole my post! Lol, I was scrolling along to see if the topic of a favorite Cowboy play was going to come up, and for sure that’s the play I was going to post! The Eagles thought they had that game, and they were already celebrating on the sidelines during that drive when Cowboy lassoed Maclin and ripped the game from them. It was the start of the great 49er Defense of 2011-2014 and the Cowboy legend was born that day.

      1. That was his signature play for me too. There was another one that I think may have been in the PO game against the Saints where he just “rag doll’s” and tosses aside a left tackle enroute to the QB.
        In one post game interview I remember Aldon talking about a play where Cowboy had the QB wrapped up and Aldon came in for a late assist on the sack. As Cowboy helped Aldon up after the play he supposedly asked him “Where’ve you been? Did you stop for coffee?”
        I also liked the line from his conference call where he said he didn’t want you guys (Press) to get him in a room and make him cry.

        1. BT,

          JS was awesome in the playoff game against the Saints. The play that stands out to me in that game was the one in which he drove his man into Brees, like he was on a furniture dolly, reached over his man, and grabbed Brees. With the O lineman still sandwiched in between the two.

  10. ‘What does that mean to close your career these last few years to have a shot at winning a Super Bowl?’ (interviewer)

    “Oh, it was great. You know, there’s a lot of guys going into training camp this year, everybody’s going to show up to training camp talking about they want to win a Super Bowl. And I was no different. Every year, there’s only a 10-percent chance you think you can really win it. But, deep down, you know if you’ve got a team to do it. For four years there, the feeling walking into camp thinking you can win a Super Bowl was pretty cool.” (Justin Smith)

    I wonder if the Cowboy would have played one more season if he felt this 2015 team had a legitimate chance at a Super Bowl run.
    Perhaps JS is giving us an inside perspective of where the team stands as it goes into the 2015 season.
    I know that it’s only speculation, but perhaps Willis could have gone one more year if the 49ers were a major player this year.

    One thing is certain, this will be a very interesting season.

    1. I think it would be hard for some of the senior players to believe they have as good a shot at a SB this year as they had the past four years, in particular 2012 and 2013. So much change, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of reliance on young guys stepping up.

      But mostly I think these decisions by Willis and Smith just come down to them questioning whether their bodies were capable of playing a full season at as high a level as was needed to win a SB anymore. They are both proud people, not willing to be ‘just another guy’ the rest of the team needs to carry.

      1. This team is loaded, but you’re not sure what kind of ammo you’re shooting at certain positions. Coaching and scheme should keep this team close in every game. I believe this team will be more unified and have a chip on their shoulders. If that offensive line gels and stays healthy, they could win 10 games….

        1. Union, Yin & Yang, Love, Devotion, Surrender (to the common goal), Yoga, Unity; OL, offense, defense, STs will be the key as you said.
          Talent losses, but muc talent and potential remain.
          The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unity of Purpose. Gung Ho! (And a good bit of UH-Rah!)

      2. Scooter,
        I agree with your take.
        I was was just going off the beaten path to add another twist.

        But to your point: “They are both proud people, not willing to be ‘just another guy’ the rest of the team needs to carry.”

        In my humble opinion, I don’t think that either Willis or JS would fall into the “just another guy” category. And I don’t know of any current player on the roster who would need to carry them.
        Had these two players not retired they would be the starters at their respected positions.
        Here’s another twist, if Cowboy and Willis played this year and started while not playing at optimum level, what does that say about our current players?
        Again, I’m just thinking out loud here.

        1. If Willis and Smith played this year I agree they would likely start, and I also agree they most likely would still be pretty decent. But for players that have been among the best in the NFL, being just a decent starter to them would probably feel like they need to be carried a bit/ are holding the team back.

          I agree that its a bit concerning that these guys at less than optimum could still be better than what they have to replace them with. But to be honest we won’t know until the younger guys get a chance what they can do. It could well end up being in the best interests of everyone.

    2. AES,

      I feel the same way. Much easier to retire if you feel the SB window is closed and with all that’s transpired this offseason, it was probably a factor, albeit not as much as their health.

      1. rocket,
        Willis has played with a bad turf toe for a few years and after his recent surgery one would think that he would have a new lease of health and come back with a new-found vigor.
        Sure the injuries have likely taken there toll on these players, but I somehow have a sneaking suspicion that the major coaching transitions may have played a role in their decision as well.

  11. Cowboy

    NFC Champion 2012
    5× Pro Bowl (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)
    3× All-Pro (2011, 2012, 2013)
    2x San Francisco 49ers MVP (2008, 2011)
    Pro Football Focus Defensive Player of the Year (2011)
    Sports Illustrated Defensive Player of the Year (2011)
    Ed Block Courage Award (2010)
    Ranked #69 in the top 100 players of 2014
    Ranked #28 in the top 100 players of 2013
    Ranked #17 in the top 100 players of 2012
    First-team All-American (2000)
    2× First-team All-Big 12 (1999, 2000)

    Career NFL statistics

    Quarterback sacks:

    Forced fumbles:


    1. I think you are right Jack, but that is also pretty common for 3-4 defenses. Those DEs need to tie up blockers to either get the OLB free on stunts or give them 1-on-1s on the edge.

    2. 2014 seem to verify that Aldon wasn’t ready to get along without Justin, but maybe he will be in 2015.

    1. Saw that. Normally, I’m all for schadenfreude when it comes to the Seachickens, but I feel sorry for the poor guy. He’s had it really tough with injuries and now cancer of all things at his young age. Hope he beats it and comes back strong.

      1. This is WAAYYy beyond sports rivalries. Too many friends and family as Survivors and non-survivors. He’s in my thoughts, and I hope he’s aware of the benefits of a positive attitude. Om.

    1. Good article. I agree with everything expect the idea of Armstead playing at RDE. He seems more suited for McDonald’s old post.

    2. Well, you know my thoughts on the matter coincide with yours. Like Mid said though, at this point in time I think Armstead may be better suited to the LDE role. But he could surprise.

  12. 2 things I like:

    1. Tomsula talking about Justin Smith: Coach actually sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, confident and well-equipped to speak on the subject.

    2. Out with the old, in with the young: I’m stoked that Harbaugh is gone, and that we’ll finally see what the young talent can do, on both offense (WR/TE) and defense (DL).

    1. I hate to do this, but I (mostly) agree with E. While I would not go as far to say that I am ‘stoked’ Harbaugh is gone (I have mixed feelings on that), I do think the change may benefit some younger players.

      And I generally like Tomsula. Sure, he is rough around the edges, but I for one do not believe his lack of sophistication when speaking in public is evidence one way or another regarding his competence as a coach. Like Harbaugh, he may be too much of a cheerleader of the players, but it comes off less calculated than when Harbaugh did it. And when he does talk football, especially defense, it is clear that he knows football.

      1. one definite plus for Tomsula is that he is considered a very good teacher on the field. and his results on the d-line with developing and plugging in players like Ian Williams, Dorsey and even Ricky Jean-Francois and Tony Jerrod-Eddie being competent fill in back ups speaks to Tomsula’s skills as a teacher/coach.

        I think the ability to develop and play younger players is something that appeals to a GM Scout like Baalke.

        1. Agree with teaching and coaching. But what I want to know is can they put together a game plan week in and week out that will give the team the best chance of winning. Also, can they make in-game adjustments.

      2. When Jim Harbaugh said something outlandish in praise of one of his players it was with tongue in check and part of playing with the press core. When Tomsula says this or that is “fantastic” it’s because he can’t think of anything better to say, and he knows it’s important to be enthusiastic.

    2. The idea that Harbaugh didn’t play or develop young players is hyperbole. A number of rookies – Aldon Smith, Eric Reid, Aaron Lynch, Vance McDonald, Kendall Hunter, Dontae Johnson, Jimmy Ward, to name a few – got a lot of playing time in their first seasons. There wasn’t a lot of young players getting much time on offense because the spots were filled with Vets who were better options for the most part.

      This season will be similar with Boldin and Smith starting and playing the majority of snaps at WR and Davis and McDonald (if healthy) playing the majority of snaps at TE. I see a lot of revisionist history being laid out to try and legitimize the firing of Harbaugh and I couldn’t disagree more. He was fired because he clashed with York and Baalke, not because of what transpired on the field. He had one of the best runs in NFL history for a first time HC. It’s ridiculous to try and say his on field performance was worthy of being fired.

      No matter how you feel about the person or the offense in general, Harbaugh won football games, and that is all that matters, or at least it should.

      1. “…No matter how you feel about the person or the offense in general, Harbaugh won football games, and that is all that matters, or at least it should….”

        I agree, rocket .. but, I’m still a little miffed about
        the way they “mutually parted ways” ..

        Ya know .. with The Harbs having to coach..
        practically the whole season with that low-hanging
        dark cloud over his head.. the many rumors
        in the press .. saying he “lost” the locker room
        and such ..

        Even if it were true .. the press should have
        never caught wind of it .. and for that ..
        I put the blame solely on The Jedster..

        My suspicions will be proved true if the Niners
        don’t have a great season, this year ..
        and Baalke ends up agitating the gravel !

        1. MWN,

          You’re preaching to the choir my friend. I agree with you. The shots being taken at Harbaugh are hard to understand considering he took them from a laughing stock to a SB contender in one year, and had one of the best records in the NFL over his 4 years here.

          We are going to get a lot of answers this year in regards to the Coaching vs. talent question many seem to have. I don’t see Coaching as a strong suit for this team, at least not at the top 3 positions of authority, but would love to have to eat crow on that. As good of a Teacher as Tomsula is said to be, the HC doesn’t actually Coach as much as he administrates. It’s a different deal to go from the likable Dline Coach to running the whole show.

        2. >I put the blame solely on the Jedster<

          For the locker room leaks? Deion Sanders said he got it from a player inside the SF locker room. Rappaport also reported it, but never hinted at his source(s), so I guess that could be Jed, but who knows?
          Also, lack of immediate success by a team with new coaches and heavy turnover of quality players will prove what? That Jed leaks secrets? Uh, no.
          That the coaches are dopes? No.
          That the team is re-entering the long term doldrums? Not that either.
          I'm not defending Jed. He f.u., but he's not the only aho team owner. Look to the Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars, Colts, Titans, Rams, Cards, Browns and Aborigines. (I give JJones a pass because he's shown improvement lately. I give MDavis a pass because he hasn't done that much stupid stuff yet, but he'll make the list when he stiffs Oakland again. I give the Hunt brothers a pass because what ticks me off about them has nothing to do with the NFL).
          Teams are always a bit different from year to year, let's cheer this '15 team on and see how far they can go.

            1. lol .. ht !

              BT ..

              I’m all for cheering on my team, good, bad
              or ugly ..

              Heck …I still wore my Niner jerseys (proudly)
              back when The Jedster’s daddy hired
              Erickson ! … and I’ll continue to do so !

              But.. so far .. The Jedster hasn’t given me
              any reason to believe the acorn hasn’t fallen far
              from the tree …

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