ESPN Insider Adam Schefter's report Friday that the 49ers are not expected to exercise the 2015 option on Smith says it loud and clear. The deadline on the option is May 3. Smith would be paid $9.75 million in 2015 if it is exercised. However, it is only guaranteed by a major injury and it could be pulled.
If the 49ers don't exercise the option, he will be a free agent after the 2014 season. If the 49ers then decide to give him the franchise tag, it would likely be in the $12 million to $13 million range.
Here's the bottom line: Not exercising this option isn't the prudent football decision. But the 49ers' frustration level with Smith, 24, apparently is so extreme that the best football decision may not be the focus here. If the 49ers do not exercise this option, it will mean they have lost faith in Smith and do not plan to have a long-term relationship with him.
Perhaps the 49ers are deciding public perception is more important than football in this case. Although it is low risk, exercising the option would be a sign Smith is being rewarded. With all the negative news surrounding him, it appears he has not earned a reward.
Smith's troubles escalated last Sunday when he was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport and booked on a charge of false report of a bomb threat. He has yet to be formally charged. Smith is also facing felony gun charges and his second drunken driving charge since he entered the NFL in 2011. Smith missed five games last season while he was in a treatment center. There is a strong possibility he will face NFL discipline this season.
If the 49ers, indeed, stay away from this option, it is a strong sign Smith will not be with the team for the long-term and the team will instead spend on the long-term contracts of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, receiver Michael Crabtree and perhaps guard Mike Iupati. All three players are entering the final season of their deals.
Also, if the 49ers don't exercise this option, expect them to seriously consider taking a pass-rusher early in next month's draft because Smith will no longer be a big part of their future.