The San Francisco 49ers defense will suffer yet another key loss as defensive end Justin Smith has announced his decision to retire from football after 14 seasons.
Smith played a crucial role in the 49ers defense’s rise to stardom, which helped propel them to Super Bowl contender status for three years.
The 35-year-old came up with 87 sacks and 17 forced fumbles in his career while playing with the Cincinnati Bengals and 49ers and making five consecutive Pro Bowl trips, starting in 2009.
Smith will be yet another devastating departure for the 49ers as they already lost a leader in inside linebacker Patrick Willis.
They have also lost players such as inside linebacker Chris Borland and cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver.
No loss will be more detrimental than head coach Jim Harbaugh though, who accepted the head coach position at Michigan.
Harbaugh’s arrival instantly made the 49ers Super Bowl contenders after they went eight seasons without making the playoffs.
The 49ers will hope to gain instant production from rookie defensive end Arik Armstead, who was taken with the 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft.