Smith, 35, was a two-time All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl five times – all with the 49ers. Smith began his career with the Cincinnati Bengals after being drafted fourth overall in 2001. Smith spent seven seasons with the Bengals before moving on to San Francisco in 2008.
“Justin is the consummate professional whose impact on this organization can never be measured by statistics alone,” said 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. “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!”
Smith proved to be one of the most durable players during his time in the league. From his rookie year through December 2012, Smith started 185 consecutive games. Overall in 221 games, Smith totaled 880 tackles, 87 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, three interceptions and 30 passes defended. Smith had at least five sacks in 12 of his 14 years in the league, including a career high 8.5 in 2001 – his rookie year – and 2010.
“Tough. Physical. Durable. Hard-working. Dedicated. Selfless. Justin embodies each of those qualities and brought even more with him to work each and every day,” 49ers CEO Jed York said in a release. “Whether it was chasing down a wide receiver and forcing a fumble to seal a win, or driving a tackle back into the quarterback’s chest, he gave everything he had every play. Justin has earned the respect of the entire NFL community and he will always be remembered as one of the 49ers all-time greats.”
Reports of Smith’s impending retirement first emerged in March on the same day 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis announced his shocking retirement, so the team had to know this decision was coming.
Smith becomes the third defensive player for the 49ers to retire this offseason, joining Willis and linebacker Chris Borland, who retired after one season due to the risk of head injury.
“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,” 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula said. “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.”
With those three removed from the defense, Tomsula, who is entering his first season as head coach after serving as defensive line coach since 2007, has a challenge ahead of him.
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