NFL Media's Alex Flanagan reported last month that 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith was prepared to hang it up after the team's Week 17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
General manager Trent Baalke, though, isn't ready to concede that his three-time All-Pro defender won't be back in 2015.
"Like any player at this stage of his career, he's going ... what I told him was we're not even going to talk," Baalke told reporters Thursday, per CSN Bay Area. "When I left it with him, the next two or three weeks, 'Justin, go home, take care of your family, see how you feel, and at some point in the next month, three weeks to a month, I'll reach out and we'll talk.'
"And I think he's earned that right. His nickname obviously is 'Cowboy,' if he's going to saddle up again, he'll know. That decision will be his and his alone, and we'll certainly work through that with him when the time is right."
As with Manning in Denver, Smith's return to the team could hinge on how he feels about the departure of both coach Jim Harbaugh and longtime defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. With Jim Tomsula -- his beloved position coach -- taking over, though, we imagine Smith will give thought to returning for a 15th campaign, especially with $2.65 million in base salary set to come his way.
If Smith walks, it's just another gap to fill for Tomsula, who also stands to lose running back Frank Gore and wideout Michael Crabtree to free agency in what looms as an intriguing offseason in San Francisco.
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