It’s hard to argue about Aldon Smith and what he means on the field for the San Francisco 49ers. However, his problems with the law and with alcohol might mean that one of the more talented pass rushers in the NFL won’t get his fifth-year option picked up by the team, and if push comes to shove he might even be released before the 2014 NFL season.
Smith is a one time pro bowler and first team All-Pro, and if it wasn’t for missing five games last season due to rehab, he would have made it in 2013 as well. But the 49ers are now facing a tough decision – picking up his fifth year option (2015) in early May or letting him walk after the 2014 season into free agency, which means losing an excellent defensive anchor who has been partially responsible for their rise under Jim Harbaugh.
Smith has a court hearing on April 29 concerning DUI and gun possession charges from last year and his recent LAX incident doesn’t make things any better for him or any easier for the 49ers as a franchise. There’s no clear answer as to what happened in Los Angeles Airport, and drinking Alcohol isn’t a crime. But in a string of incidents that paint an ugly picture – rehab last year, described as having a drinking problem, found passed out in the front seat of a vehicle that was up against a tree and running, it’s harder and harder to turn a back on the problem.
After getting out of rehab the 49ers let Smith back on the field, and according to Bay Area Sports Guy, he had taken control of his drinking problem and his life. The 49ers don’t have just Smith to worry about in terms of legal problems: with the arrests of Daniel Kilgore (the charges were dropped) and Chris Culliver, and both Colin Kaepernick and Quinton Patton were the subjects of an investigation that right now is mostly hypothetical and wild theories.
So again, it comes down to picking up on Smith’s fifth-year option. It’s worth $9.75 million, and is guaranteed against injury. Smith missed five games this year because of rehab, but injuries haven’t been a problem in his three-year career thus far, playing all 32 games in the 2011 & 2012 seasons. If the Niners don’t pick up the option, which gives them the option of negotiating an extension as well, Smith becomes a free agent in 2015.
Right now, a lot is riding on the April 29 court date . They have to decide by May 3 whether to pick up his fifth-year option. It’s more than likely that the 49ers wait until the last possible minute to make a decision on this one, wanting to see how the LAX thing plays out as well. If he faces legal penalties related to the LAX incident, the NFL is going to punish him regardless of what the 49ers think about his contract extension and future with the franchise.
That might mean he’ll be cut before the 2014 season (which will cost the 49ers $4.5 million), but it’s all based on reporters talking to anonymous sources. The 49ers stood behind Aldon Smith’s problem last season, but maybe this time is going to be different. There have been no public statements regarding the matter from the team, but there has been plenty of bad press this season already, and eventually the decision on Smith won’t have anything to do with football, but with the team’s image.