49ers All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith announced his retirement Monday, deepening the defensive limbo San Francisco has been in since the sudden retirements of linebackers Patrick Willis, and Chris Borland earlier this year.
Smith ends his career after seven stellar seasons with the 49ers, where he racked up 414 combined tackles, five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro selections.
Smith’s decision to retire echoed a similar tone to Willis: After accumulating many injuries after a long career, it became clear it was time to call it quits.
“I mean, for me it’s just, you know, where I play on the right side, all my contact comes on my left shoulder and left side. And, I mean, it doesn’t respond like I want it to respond anymore. You know? You don’t have the tools, you can’t do the job, so it’s just time to go.”
Smith’s retirement marks the third defensive cornerstone to exit before the 2015 season. After holding one of the NFL’s top defenses, the 49ers will find themselves scrambling to fill the very voids that stuffed runners for the last four years.
The 49ers made moves to bolster their defense with their first three draft picks, including defensive lineman Arik Armstead, linebacker Eli Harold and hard-hitting safety Jaquiski Tartt.
Picking Armstead in the first round appears to indicate the 49ers expected Smith to retire, opting out of more explosive options in favor of the Oregon rookie.
Head Coach Jim Tomsula — who coached Smith in all seven years with the 49ers — said the team is ready to move forward, following the solid example Smith left in his time with the team:
“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.”
With rookies already reporting to minicamp, Tomsula is working to get his new defenders acclimated to their new jobs. With Willis, Borland, and now Smith all officially out the door, expect these rookies to see the field much sooner that expected.