Football / Sports

49ers exercise option on troubled Aldon Smith

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Encouraged by a face-to-face meeting with Aldon Smith, general manager Trent Baalke gave the thumbs up Friday for the 49ers to pick up the embattled linebacker's 2015 option, a league source told this newspaper.

Off-field issues called into question whether the 49ers would retain their rights to Smith beyond 2014, when his four-year rookie deal was set to expire.

With his option exercised, Smith's $9,754,000 salary for 2015 is guaranteed only if he sustains a serious injury this coming season, part of which he still might he might miss serving a suspension from the league or team. That 2015 salary becomes fully guaranteed if he's on the roster on the first day of the next league year: March 11, 2015.

Baalke cited his own "humanistic approach" in supporting Smith a week ago, telling reporters at a pre-draft round-table that he wanted Smith to remain with the team even beyond 2015.

"All we can do is support, create an environment conducive to improving in the areas you need to improve in," Baalke said then. "As long as he's a 49er, we intend to do just that."

Baalke was unavailable for comment Friday, as was coach Jim Harbaugh, who was out of town and otherwise also would have met with Smith, a source said.

The 49ers announced their decision on Smith some eight hours before Friday's 9 p.m. deadline. First-round draft picks in 2011 had a fifth-year team option inserted into contracts as part of the league's new rookie wage scale.

The 49ers were not expected to pick up the $14.67 million option on quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who was drafted 10th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gabbert, a Missouri teammate of Smith's, was traded to the 49ers in March.

Wide receiver Jon Baldwin, the 26th overall pick by the Chiefs, had his 2015 option removed after restructuring his contract with the 49ers in February, according to a team source. Baldwin had three receptions for 28 yards last season and was inactive for all but seven games.

Smith, the seventh overall pick, has racked up 42 sacks (in 43 regular-season games), the league's second-most over the past three seasons behind Jared Allen (451/2). The only five games Smith has missed in his career were a result of his stint last season at a personal treatment facility.

Smith, 24, owns franchise records with most sacks by a rookie (14 in 2011) and most in a season (19 in 2012). He had 81/2 last season before adding 31/2 in the playoffs, including two in the NFC Championship game loss at Seattle.

Smith's next court date is May 12 in Santa Clara County Superior Court, for a status conference related to weapons charges and his alleged drunken-driving case. He has yet to be charged by the Los Angeles City Attorney after getting arrested April 16 at L.A. International Airport for allegedly making a fake bomb threat.

Fifth-year options were not expected to be picked up on Jake Locker (No. 8, Titans), Christian Ponder (No. 12, Vikings), Nick Fairley (No. 13, Lions), Adrian Clayborn (No. 20, Buccaneers), James Carpenter (No. 25, Seahawks), Mark Ingram (No. 28, Saints) and Derek Sherrod (No. 32, Packers).

Options of two other first-round picks were terminated upon their release: Danny Watkins (No. 23, cut by Eagles before 2013 season) and Gabe Carimi (No. 29, Bears; since traded and cut by Buccaneers).

Tim Kawakami contributed to this report.

(c)2014 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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