The San Francisco 49ers signed defensive end Justin Smith to a two-year contract extension Wednesday to keep one of their most important defensive players off the free-agent market next offseason.
Smith, 33, has been the anchor to one of the NFL’s top defenses the past two seasons, helping the 49ers make it to the NFC championship game following the 2011 season and to the Super Bowl last season.
He was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season but had no interest in testing the market and negotiated the extension himself with general manager Trent Baalke to remain under contract through 2015.
"I wanted to be here. That makes it simple," Smith said. "They wanted me to be here and I wanted to be here so that makes it easy."
Smith originally signed a six-year deal to join the 49ers in 2008 and has been a key part of the building process that turned the franchise’s fortunes around after an eight-year stretch without a playoff berth.
Smith was a first-team All-Pro defensive tackle and second-team defensive end in 2011 in a sign of his versatility. He was a second-team selection at both positions last season and has made four straight Pro Bowls.
"Justin’s All-Pro contributions on the field, as well as his leadership on and off the field, are integral to our success as a team," Baalke said in a statement. "Justin consistently sets a standard of excellence, serving as an example for everyone within our organization. This contract allows Justin to finish his career as a 49er!"
Since joining the 49ers in 2008, Smith has helped the team rank second in rushing yards allowed per game (94.4) and yards per carry (3.6) over that time span. He has 536 tackles, 32 sacks, one interception, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and nine passes defensed since joining the 49ers.
Smith missed the final 2 games of the regular season in 2012 with a partially torn left triceps, ending his streak of 185 consecutive starts. He returned for the postseason but was somewhat limited during a playoff run that ended with a 34-31 loss to Baltimore in the Super Bowl.
He had surgery after the season and expects to be fully recovered by the start of training camp next month.
"The good news is it’s healed. It’s close to 100 percent for what I want it to be," he said. "I feel good about it, feel confident about the season. I’ve never been injured like that. I didn’t know anything with the rehab process, what to expect, what coming out of surgery would be like. It’s all been really good."
Smith has always prided himself on his durability that allows him to play almost every snap at a physically grueling position where many players rotate in and out of the game to stay fresh.
He played more than 90 percent of San Francisco’s defensive snaps last season before the injury, according to Pro Football Focus, and said he doesn’t expect that to change even when he is 36-years old at the end of this contract.
"I won’t be a guy who will be around for 10 snaps, 20 snaps," he said. "It’s either I’m going or I’m not going. If it’s time to get out of here, I’m going. I can get a ticket like everybody else. That’s what I’ll do."