San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has agreed to restructure his contract with the team so that most of the $9.75 million he was set to earn this season will no longer be guaranteed.
The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Smith's contract, but reworked the deal so that Smith will only receive $2 million in guaranteed money, and will have the opportunity to get the remaining $7.75 million by earning a series of roster bonuses throughout the season. The exact specifics of the deal aren't known, but a "roster bonus" is usually something a player earns simply by not being cut. Smith's agent explained his client's motivation for giving up his guaranteed contract to CSN Bay Area:
"The thought behind it is that Aldon realizes he's been his own worst enemy. He has come a long way since he was suspended. Ultimately his goal, my goal, and the team's goal is for him to sign a long-term contract with the Niners."
"He's basically saying, 'I'm willing to bet on myself.'"
It's certainly reasonable for the 49ers to not want to invest a big chunk of guaranteed money into a guy who has had multiple DUI arrests and is always at risk to catch a big suspension, but there is still a strong whiff of bullshit on this deal. There's a very good chance that the team forced Smith's hand by threatening to not pick up the option at all unless he agreed to go non-guaranteed, leaving a guy with a string of arrests and no leverage with no real choice in the matter.
How much bullshit the deal turns out to be will depend entirely on how the 49ers choose to take advantage of it. Ideally, the money being non-guaranteed would motivate Smith to stay out of trouble, and he'll play a full season and earn his money and everyone will be happy. But what happens if he stays out of trouble, struggles through the first few weeks of the season, and then gets cut because he's not performing like an all-pro? Smith is going pretty far out on a limb to prove to his bosses that he's a team player, and he's trusting them to be honorable. We'll see how that goes.