Aldon Smith: Football Decision or Not, 49ers’ Best Course of Action is to Move on From Troubled Star
The following line I am going to write is instantly going to have about half of you reading this article siding with me in agreement, and the other half of you questioning my judgment as a sports writer. You know what, I am fine with that. I’ve given this lots of thought since the news broke that Aldon Smith was arrested for making a bomb threat, allegedly, at Los Angeles airport earlier this month. I toyed around with this notion when he was arrested for his second DUI last September, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt at the time.
Now, the time has come: The San Francisco 49ers need to cut ties with Aldon Smith immediately. He should not play a single down for them in 2014, period.
From a purely football standpoint, I understand the temptation to keep him on the roster. And let me be clear, that could certainly happen. The time has come, though, to send a message. Again, that time probably should have come a long time ago. If not with the two drunk-driving charges, how about the 2012 party in which Smith found himself stabbed and later charged with felony firearm possession for owning an automatic assault weapon?
There is no disputing Smith’s talent on the field. The seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft has racked up 42 sacks in just 43 NFL games. He is an unbelievable talent!
Would it surprise you at all though if the next bit of news we hear about Smith is a report that he was being connected with an assault? God forbid, a homicide? And I don’t necessarily mean an intentional homicide where he pulled the trigger on one of his illegal guns, but perhaps it’s another DUI incident that results in a fatality this time.
Am I taking it to an extreme? Yes, I absolutely am, and I am fully aware of that. Smith has not been connected to any violent crimes and I am not insinuating that he has been.
Let’s not go down a path of comparing Smith to Aaron Hernandez, but let’s also recognize that Smith can’t seem to stay out of his own way and is on a self destructive path that will eventually bring his team down with him if they don’t recognize the signs and move on. Perhaps he had better spend the 2014 season in intense rehabilitation for his alcohol and drug addictions. Serve any jail time with the reflection of the behavior that will have landed him in a cell in the first place, and look to return to the NFL in 2015 with a new team, a change of scenery and a fresh start.
That change of scenery could be coming fast. Smith has worn out the benefit of the doubt within the ranks of the 49er’s front office and ownership.
Tim Kawakami of The San Jose Mercury News had this to say about Smith’s situation:
“There is a weariness and frustration over Smith’s behavior that I’ve never heard involving any recent 49ers player. Until this week.
And this is coming from people with the team who defended Smith full-tilt after his DUI arrest last September and emphasized back then that he voluntarily was seeking help, which was a clear sign that he was ready to address his problems.
It’s a very, very different tone now. Starkly different.
49ers management — owner Jed York and G.M. Trent Baalke and the York family and everyone in there — is embarrassed and absolutely should be.
I’m told that Jim Harbaugh joins the consensus on this issue, too.”
Kawakami opines that Smith will not play a down for the 49er’s in 2014.
Perhaps telling of just how worn out his act has become, it’s not like Smith even has the full support of the fan base he plays for.
Suspension? Aldon Smith should serve jail time. If that was any regular person they would get time in prison.
— Derik Scott (@BigD9172) April 18, 2014
And then there’s this reaction, pointing out Smith’s list of priors and what can only be seen as “celebrity treatment” that your average criminal would not receive.
Aldon Smith has had a felony DUI, Felony gun possession charges, and now a bomb scare, and has done 0 jail time. Gotta love it.
— Azor Ahai (@TheonlyFaze) April 15, 2014
The 49er’s face a May 3rd deadline to exercise the fifth year option on his current NFL contract. If they choose to decline that option, as many outlets are now reporting they will, then Smith will become a free agent following this upcoming season.
Following his April 29 hearing in a Santa Clara courtroom, we may have a better indication of the direction the 49ers will take. Any jail sentence eventually handed to Smith would be met with a league-issued suspension from the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell’s office. Goodell’s legacy in this league is his personal conduct policy, and there are few greater offender’s than Smith at the current moment.
I would imagine that San Francisco won’t make a decision on the course of action they plan to take until they know exactly how much time Smith will be able to log for them this upcoming season, and what portion of his contract they are on the hook for. His contract for 2014 includes a $3 million guarantee. Perhaps allowing him to serve out his suspension would wipe out a huge chunk of that guarantee? Truthfully, I do not know, but I am certain if they cut ties with him before any suspension is issued they would have to pay the entirety of that guarantee.
Personally, I’d cut him the check, thank for him his service, and wish him the best as I escorted him out of the building. That’s just me though, and it’s not my $3 million.
I’d look for Trent Baalke to draft his replacement early in the upcoming draft, as even if he does play in 2014 for the 49ers, it should be the last time he sees wearing the Niners’ red and gold. His production on the field will be hard to replace, but remember that the 49ers were 5-0 last season while Smith was voluntarily in rehab for his alcohol abuse.
Take the $9.5 million he is owed in 2015 and any money you would have given to him in an extension and allocate that money for Michael Crabtree, Colin Kaepernick and any other member of the team worth retaining that does not require 24-hour babysitting to keep out of trouble. (Spare me your Kaepernick Miami comments until something substantiated is reported, and then we can revisit this line. Even the woman in the story did not accuse the 49er’s QB of any crime being committed and no charges have been filed).
Aldon’s production on the field can be missed if it also means avoiding the headaches that come with him off the field.
As Mark Purdy of The San Jose Mercury News asked, “What Would Bill Walsh Do?”
It’s time to say goodbye.
Brandon is a member of the Pro Football Writer’s of America and a credentialed member of the Bay Area Sports Media.