INDIANAPOLIS -- Trent Baalke said he plans to met with Justin Smith after the scouting combine to see whether the veteran defensive lineman wants to return for a 15th season. Smith, a starter at right defensive end, has one more year remaining on his contract but has been non-committal about returning.
Smith has been one of many players who have been working out at the 49ers’ team facility in recent weeks. Does that encourage Baalke that Smith wants to be part of the team in 2015?
“I’d say, yes, for the normal person, but for Justin, that’s a way of life for him,” Baalke said. “He’s always done that. He was in the process of building a home back in Missouri and one of the first things he built was a weight room. That’s just the way he’s wired. That’s part of his life. That’s why he’s been as successful as he’s been throughout his career.”
With Smith “in limbo,” according to Baalke, he said the 49ers would approach the combine as if Smith wasn’t going to return.
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“You always go in anticipating that you’re going to have to address those potential holes,” he said. “So it’s no different than any other year in respect to that. It just happens to be several key players over a long period of time with the organization. And that’s why it draws more attention.”
In addition to Smith, who will turn 36 in September, the 49ers have several prominent players heading for free agency, including running back Frank Gore, receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati. Baalke said he would meet with Crabtree’s representatives this week, and he is likely to to do the same with the agents for all his pending free agents.
Smith has been the bedrock of the 49ers' defensive line since he arrived via free agency in 2008, and he and linebacker Aldon Smith formed a potent, one-two punch on the right side of the 49ers' defensive line.
But Justin Smith suffered a triceps injury in 2012, battled a shoulder problem in 2013 and late last year dealt with a back injury. He was noncommittal about his return when asked in December, but he has been working out at the 49ers' practice facility in recent weeks.
For several seasons, Smith has told teammates he intends to retire but always has come back. Is this year different?
“I do believe with each year passing as these guys get older, the end is near,” Baalke said. “Is he ready to call it quits? Once again, I can’t answer that.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.