The San Francisco 49ers have endured a pretty torrid offseason, with departures on both the coaching and playing staff leaving the future very uncertain.
The 49ers faithful saw Jim Harbaugh depart for Michigan under a cloud of unrest, while the likes of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland walked away from the NFL altogether.
Speculation around the future of another key man, veteran Justin Smith, has been rife in recent months too and the popular star has today finally come to a decision.
After meeting with 49ers officials last week, and with reports earlier today saying he was close to an announcement, Smith has made his retirement from the game official today.
The five-time Pro Bowler will be a huge loss for the San Francisco franchise as they look to rebuild under new head coach Jim Tomsula.
Although signs had been pointing towards his walking away from the game, the 49ers had been hoping to convince him to stay on for what would have been a seventh campaign for the team.
Aged 35, though, the defensive star will end his NFL career on 221 games with both the 49ers and Bengals. In that time he rose to one of the most respected players in his position and racked up 1,370 tackles, 87.0 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, three interceptions and 30 passes defensed.
San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York was amongst the first to comment on Smith's retirement:
"Tough. Physical. Durable. Hard-working. Dedicated. Selfless. Justin embodies each of those qualities and brought even more with him to work each and every day.”
In paying tribute to the departing star, York described Smith an "all-time 49ers great" whilst praising his professionalism.
The full response can be seen here.
49ers fans: What are your best memories of Smith, and can your team cope with such a big number of changes? Have your say in the comments below...
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