Greatest free agent acquistions in San Francisco 49ers history: 1. Justin Smith
49ers Tenure: 2008 – 2014
The top player on Niner Noise’s list of best free-agent pickups in 49ers history is a player who was the key cog in one of the franchise’s top defensive eras in defensive end Justin Smith.
Smith had a solid career with the Cincinnati Bengals before joining the Niners in free agency in 2008. While never reaching the Pro Bowl with Cincinnati, Smith still managed 43.5 sacks over his seven-year tenure there.
San Francisco 49ers
A year after joining San Francisco, however, Smith began what arguably could be one of the best defensive runs by a player in franchise history, making the Pro Bowl five consecutive years. And in 2011, he would earn First-Team All-Pro honors after a 58-tackle, 7.5-sack campaign that also included three forced fumbles.
Niners fans will remember just how effective the team’s front seven was during the early 2010s. It’s hard to ignore Smith being the linchpin of that unit.
In 2012, while most of the stat geeks were focused on Aldon Smith’s 19.5-sack efforts, it was impossible to overlook the work Justin Smith was putting in. He was often drawing double and triple teams, which allowed Aldon Smith to rack up the huge amount of sacks.
Against the New England Patriots in Week 15, however, Justin Smith suffered a torn triceps. That hindered his efforts during the 49ers’ playoff run up to Super Bowl XLVII. Aldon Smith’s efforts also decreased.
Despite that, and another shoulder injury in 2013, Justin Smith still managed a Pro Bowl campaign in what would be his second to last year in the NFL ranks.
Smith elected to retire after the 2014 season. He currently ranks 14th on the team’s all-time list for tackles (299) and seventh in total sacks (43.5).
Yet his work in the trenches, wreaking havoc up front, is too hard to quantify. But it didn’t go unnoticed, which is why he stands alone atop the 49ers’ list of best free-agent pickups ever.