Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports



San Francisco 49ers fans were hit with a shocker as they woke up Monday morning. For a while now, there has been speculation that defensive lineman Justin Smith would be retiring. Many hoped that it would not happen, including the new 49ers coaching staff, but the team was moving forward as if Smith would not return.

The real shocker was that linebacker Patrick Willis would be joining him. Willis' retirement plans were first reported by Yahoo! Sports. It was later reported that neither Willis nor Smith would be returning, opting to end their NFL careers instead.

Willis missed much of last season after deciding to go through with season-ending toe surgery. Toe injuries can severely limit a players' athletic abilities on the field, but Willis had hoped that the surgery would help him to return strong and have a long NFL career in front of him. The loss of Willis is not limited to his contributions on the field, but to his leadership on the team as well.

Justin Smith's retirement plans have not yet been made official, but Pro Football Talk says that per multiple league sources, it is a done deal as well. They seem pretty sure of themselves that it will happen. Smith is a 14-year veteran and another leader on defense that the team will miss. He came to San Francisco as a free agent in 2008 and is considered one of the best free agent signings in team history. Smith met with the 49ers last week to discuss his future plans.

Possibly in light of Smith retiring, the 49ers signed defensive lineman Darnell Dockett to solidify the defensive front.

So what does this do for the 49ers' salary cap? With retirement, Willis will only count $843,500 against the 49ers salary cap while saving the team $7,424,500 this year. Smith's retirement will create $2.187 million in dead money, but it opens up $4.25 million in cap space.

Last season, rookie linebacker Chris Borland had a great year filling in for Willis. He finished the season with 108 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions while only playing part of the season.

The 49ers have lost or on the verge of losing some big names this offseason. In addition to most of their coaching staff, running back Frank Gore is planning to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles once free agency begins on Tuesday at 1 PM Pacific. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati are likely to be gone as well. Cornerback Chris Culliver may command a hefty salary in free agency as well.

On a good note, the 49ers are considered the favorites to sign former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, which would be a boost to a team that is losing Crabtree. Regardless, this team will have a very different look during the upcoming season.

It's been a tough news day for 49ers fans, but the team still has free agency and the NFL Draft to fill in some holes and add depth. The 49ers will have plenty of money to do it too.