Aldon Smith

So, what’s really going on with this Aldon Smith restructure?

San Francisco 49ers Aldon Smith

On the surface it makes very little sense for the player and his agent. Aldon Smith, who would’ve had his full 2015 salary ($9.754 million) guaranteed if he were still on the roster on Tuesday, restructured his deal. The terms were reported yesterday by CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.

Did he do it to help give the 49ers some extra cap space? No. (Well, sort of, but not in the long-term — I’ll explain a little later.)

Did he do it to earn more guaranteed money over a longer period of time? No.

So, what exactly did he do?

Via Matt Barrows:

Aldon Smith still is in line to make $9.75 million in 2015. But the contract is no longer fully guaranteed after he agreed to restructure the deal.

Instead, Smith will be paid in monthly roster bonuses beginning in April and in weekly bonuses once the season begins. That provides the team with protection should Smith run into any more off-the-field issues and indicates he is confident he’ll remain in good standing. Under the former structure, the entire deal was guaranteed with the start of the league year on Tuesday.

Why on earth would Smith willingly take guaranteed money, and make it non-guaranteed, without the chance of somehow earning more?

Smith’s agent, Doug Hendrickson, said Thursday the goal for both the 49ers and Smith, 25, is to sign a long-term extension. He said that restructuring the deal should signal that Smith is committed to staying out of trouble and is willing to bet on himself.

“Aldon appreciates and is loyal to what they’ve done for him and how they’ve stood behind him,” Hendrickson said of the 49ers. “He realizes he’s been his own worst enemy. Really, I appreciate Aldon’s approach to it.”

Uh, what?

Aldon just decided that in order to show his gratitude to the 49ers, and to prove his commitment to not getting arrested, he’s going to give the 49ers weekly chances to cut him and save money? Has a player ever made a comparable decision in the history of the league?

We know why the 49ers would make this move. It can free up some cap space in the short-term to help add talent now. The team would lose the added cap space from Smith’s restructure once the season started, but they could potentially regain some space by cutting someone after June 1 (like Ahmad Brooks, for instance). Over The Cap has a good explanation of that process here. Also, the obvious benefit: the 49ers can now cut Smith at any point during the regular season and save a lot of coin.

The 49ers’ side is easy to understand. As for the other side … unless Smith has an extraordinarily powerful conscience and/or Trent Baalke is the world’s best guilt-tripper, this is a very strange bit of news. There are a few potential conclusions, which are listed below. Of course, when it comes to the 49ers, anything is possible.

1. Smith believes that taking this leap of good faith will improve the chances of getting a long-term extension. 

Smith and the 49ers could’ve stuck to the original terms for 2015 and worked out an extension anyway. If Smith wanted to bet on himself, he could’ve done so under the original terms of his deal by avoiding arrests and collecting sacks. As always, if the 49ers think he’s worth paying, they’ll pay him.

In other words, the loyalty/commitment angle is the least cynical possibility — so I’m tempted to brush it aside. But who knows … I certainly don’t know how Smith’s mind works, or what his relationship is like with the 49ers. Maybe he believes in this sort of tit-for-tat idea, even though we’ve learned over the years that the NFL and loyalty mix like oil and Evian.

2. The 49ers made it fairly clear that Smith had two options: the restructured deal for 2015, or bye-bye Aldon.

Can we believe Smith’s agent? He told CSN Bay Area: “It wasn’t like they said, ‘If you don’t do this, you’re cut.'”

There’s probably no group of people more believable than agents, so we probably shouldn’t even include No. 2 on this list. Right!?!?

However, this cockamamie hypothetical (that the 49ers told him he was slated to get cut unless he agreed to a different payment format) brings up an entirely different question. If you’re Smith, someone who — despite the numerous problems — has impeccable pass rushing stats, athletic ability and size for days, why not call the 49ers’ bluff? Wouldn’t some other team potentially give him more than $9.75 million guaranteed?

  • Does Smith hold that much loyalty to Baalke, Jed York, and his teammates?
  • Does he think the 49ers provide by far the best opportunity to get back on the road to superstardom?
  • Does he fear what would happen if he got released?

Besides Smith’s well-known legal and substance abuse troubles, his production has declined a bit. After 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons (32 games), Smith had only 10.5 sacks in his last two seasons (18 games). However, it’s difficult to imagine a pro athlete like Smith having doubts about his future ability to get to the quarterback … or get contract offers from other teams if the 49ers decided to give up on him now.

3. Smith needs cash. Like, yesterday. 

The original deal was fully guaranteed, but the checks wouldn’t have started coming in until the regular season. Now he’ll get a monthly roster bonus in April.

Here’s what we know:

So was it loyalty to the 49ers, a fear of getting cut, or bills piling up too high? Or some other reason? We’ll probably find out, sooner or later.

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