If 49ers decline option on Smith, Baalke's 2011 draft takes a hit

If 49ers decline option on Smith, Baalke's 2011 draft takes a hit
April 18, 2014, 10:45 am
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In 2011, the 49ers drafted Aldon Smith seventh overall, then traded up to select Colin Kaepernick in the second round. (USATSI)

Editor’s note: In the lead-up to the NFL draft (May 8-10) bookmark this page to keep tabs on which players the 49ers have had reported contact

There was a time not long ago when the top of the 49ers’ 2011 draft looked like one of the best in team history.

The 49ers might have still landed their franchise quarterback with a trade-up in the second round to grab Colin Kaepernick.

The selection of Aldon Smith at No. 7 overall was viewed as an expert piece of drafting from general manager Trent Baalke until Smith’s off-field problems began impacting the 49ers on the field.

He missed five games last season after taking a voluntary leave of absence to enter in treatment for substance abuse.

Now, his alleged behavior at Los Angeles International Airport and accusation of making a false report of a bomb threat has the 49ers seriously considering not picking up the fifth-year option.

If any team decides not to exercise the fifth-year option on a first-round pick, that’s all you need to know when looking back on a draft and grading Baalke's performance.

The Houson Texans have reportedly picked up the fifth year on defensive lineman J.J. Watt, selected at No. 11 overall. And it’s considered a sure thing the St. Louis Rams will pick up the fifth year on pass-rusher Robert Quinn, chosen with the 14th pick.

The 49ers could have had either of those players. Instead, if they do not pick up the option on Smith, they will have decided after 2 ½ years of service of outstanding on-field performance that his off-field actions warrants a parting of ways.

The 49ers can secure Smith’s rights for the 2015 season with a non-binding pledge of $9.754 million. They can still cut him after the 2014 and not be on the hook for any further money.

But if the 49ers do not pick up the fifth-year option, the only way to keep him is to pay several million more on a franchise tag or come to terms on a long-term extension. The 49ers have until May 3 to pick up the option. If they do not, Smith will be scheduled for unrestricted free agency in 2015.