On August 6, star San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was arrested for a purported hit-and-run drunk-driving accident at his Santa Clara apartment complex, yet another off-field incident that has tarnished his turbulent career. The 49ers promptly released Smith on August 7, ending his playing tenure with the team, but with the team pledging its continued support in getting Smith to straighten out his private life.
While the 49ers are used to suiting up without Smith in the lineup – he’s missed 14 of the team’s last 29 games – his absence only compounds what has been a disastrous offseason that saw the departure of defensive stalwarts Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Justin Smith and more. However, the team’s hands were tied this time around. Smith was guilty of too many transgressions, and while once the team swept matters under the rug – after his second arrest, he practiced with the squad and even played the next game – the new climate of accountability in the NFL led to his release.
It leaves 49ers fans and NFL observers wondering, what’s next for Aldon Smith?
A rare talent
Smith burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2011, being selected by the 49ers in the first round with the seventh-overall pick. He quickly showed he was worth the investment.
Smith was unblockable his first two seasons in the league, posting 33.5 sacks, including 19.5 his second year, when he started every game. Behind Smith and a shutdown defense, the 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game each of his first three seasons.
Still just 25, Smith, 6-foot-5, 255 lbs., is a rare blend of power and speed. Although he had just two sacks in seven games played last year, he has the physical tools to not only get double-digits in sacks every season, but to demand double-teams from opponents.
A history of off-field trouble
As good as Smith as been between the lines on the field, his behavior of the field has been every bit as poor. And, last week’s arrest shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone – it certainly didn’t surprise the 49ers. Just the past March, the team restructured Smith’s contract for the coming season. Rather than guaranteeing the entire $9.754 million, the club pushed to pay Smith in incremental payments as the year progressed. Thus far, Smith was paid $1.6 million before his release.
A summary of Smith’s off-the-field travails includes:
- January 27, 2012 – Smith is arrested in Miami Beach, Florida on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. As a first-time offender, he qualified for a diversion program and the charges were reduced to reckless driving.
- September 20, 2013 – Smith is arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence after crashing into a tree in San Jose, just a few hours before a scheduled practice.
- October 29, 2013 – Smith is charged with three felony counts of possessing illegal assault weapons, stemming from an incident at a party at his house were two guests were injured and Smith stabbed.
- April 13, 2014 – Smith arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of making a bomb threat; no charges were filed in the case.
- August 6, 2014 – Smith arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, hit-and-run, and vandalism.
Smith claims alcohol was not a factor in last week’s arrest, something that toxicology reports will determine over the next week or two. If Smith tests positive for alcohol, the charges for DUI will stand, and Smith, based on his past history, can expect a lengthy suspension. While there’s wiggle room within the NFL’s conduct policy, he’ll likely miss the entire season before being eligible to apply for reinstatement in the spring.
That’s if alcohol was in his system. If not, it’s a different story entirely.
If DUI charges are dropped or amended, Smith will likely still be suspended by the NFL, but not for the season – not even close. That opens up the opportunity for any team in need of an edge rusher to sign Smith. That’s easily half the teams in the league, and it includes divisional rivals like the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.
Where next for Aldon Smith? It comes down to a blood test. But, even so, his future doesn’t include the 49ers, a fact that has some – like C.W. Nevious of SF Gate – thinking the team acted too quickly.
Photo Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images
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