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Trent Baalke says 49ers' Justin Smith is 'hard to read'

49ers stalwart defensive end Justin Smith has been flirting with retirement for months now. And while general manager Trent Baalke expects an answer soon, he isn't sure what that answer will be.

"He's a hard guy to read," Baalke said Thursday on PFT Live, via CSN Bay Area. "He's a guy who likes to live on the edge a little bit and keep people waiting. But if he chooses to do so (return), we'll welcome him back with open arms. And if he chooses not to, we're prepared for that as well."

Having Smith, one of the most effective players at his position, back for one more season would be a coup for new head coach Jim Tomsula.

After losing so many valuable pieces, the new head coach needs some leaders with cache back in his lineup, if only to help spread his message.

Though they drafted a defensive end -- Arik Armstead out of Oregon -- there's no chance he could immediately replicate the strength and longevity Smith has.

Since 2001 as a 22-year-old, Smith has missed just three career games.

As colleague Marc Sessler noted, this could be an ideal situation for Smith. Maybe he comes back late in training camp. Maybe he comes back during the season. He's earned the right to have a true veteran's summer.

The truth is, the ball is in his court. The 49ers need him more than he needs the 49ers at this point.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast welcomes Lindsay Rhodes to discuss the Patriots' response in the "Deflategate" saga and the latest names revealed on the "The Top 100 Players of 2015" countdown. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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