Strike while the roster's stacked. That's the message Justin Smith wants to send to his younger teammates this year.
"With some of the guys we have, and with free agency and things like that, we're not going to be able to keep this team forever together," the veteran of the defense said today. "Even age-wise, you know? The whole team won't be the same. I'm kind of stressing, 'Let's go about this in a way that we're kind of focused ... we're not rebuilding. Let's do it this year and see what happens next year.'"
Smith is right. The 49ers will bring back all 11 starters to the defense this year, but it will be hard to replicate that in coming years. One of those starters, safety Dashon Goldson, has been looking for a long-term deal for two years now. Two nose tackles, Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois, are in the final years of their contracts this year.
Several other defensive starters, including Smith, are signed through 2013. Others include linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who will be difficult to re-sign, and cornerback Tarell Brown, who had the best season of his career last year.
Then there's Smith's age. He'll turn 33 in September. And while last season may have been the best of his 11-year career, he also realizes that his window for a Super Bowl championship won't be open for long.
"Yeah, I figure I've got three more good years in me, four more good years," Smith said when asked if he thinks about how much longer he'll play. "You know, I don't want to be the guy who comes in - the third-down guy - plays 17 years. I don't want to do that. So, I'm figuring, let's go. Time is of the essence for me, personally. Not everybody else. We have a young defense. I think everyone feels the urgency, and we've got the guys right now. Let's not wait."
What's nice, Smith said, is that he doesn't need to preach this concept. He noted that the 49ers, especially the front seven defenders, are all hard workers and most of them train together through the offseason. He said the younger guys have a similar mentality and don't need to be told what to do.
"This is a unique locker room," Smith said. "You don't really have the gigantic egos. Some of the best players in there are the most down-to-earth guys, solid guys. Just trying to play football. Randy (Moss) had all these what's-he-like ... he's been one of the coolest guys, the hardest-working guys I've ever met. Media-wise, that wasn't the perception that he had. That just goes to show the type of guys they're bringing in and the locker room that's in there."
-- Matt Barrows