Smith, a first-round pick in 2011, is covered under the collective bargaining agreement the league reached with the players union that summer. First-round picks have four year contracts, with a fifth year option. Smith's rookie contract runs out after this season. The deadline is May 3. Exercising the option is considered procedural.
While no numbers are official, ESPN's John Clayton reports the option number for Smith, who was the No. 7 overall pick in 2011, is expected to be $9.754 million for 2015. It is the transition tag number for linebacker in 2014.
Smith's salary cap number for 2014 is $4.576 million. If the 49ers give Smith the option, they can still execute a long-term deal for Smith. Another choice is to let him play at the option number and then try to sign him or give him the franchise tag in 2016.
Having the option for Smith, one of the most dynamic pass-rushers in the NFL, is a nice opportunity for the 49ers. Smith has dealt with off-field problems. He missed five games last season while being treated for substance abuse. He is also facing felony gun charges and a charge from a drunken driving arrest, his second season entering the NFL. The 49ers have been pleased with Smith's personal progress since he entered treatment last September.
They have vowed to stick by him as long as he continues to put time into his well-being. The option year will buy the 49ers another season before deciding what to do with him. And it will be done at a competitive price for a pass-rusher in his prime. Smith is 24.
Still, exercising the option will put strain on the salary cap. If Smith's cap number rises above $9 million in 2015, all four of the team's star-studded 3-4 linebacker crew will have a salary cap number higher than $7 million.