I don’t really want to talk about football in April though it was cold enough yesterday to play football. I don’t want to, but as a San Francisco 49ers fan it’s hard not to talk about football in April even though the team stopped playing in January. It’s what they’ve been doing off the field since then that has made for the worst off-season I can ever recall for the Niners.
Since the Seattle Seahawks sent the Niners in the NFC Championship for the right to slap the crap out of the hapless Denver Broncos, the 49ers have been headlines news in sports pages from California to Columbus and for all the wrong reasons. The head coach was supposedly leaving to take over the Cleveland Browns. Then the coach was staying to continue working with a general manager he barely spoke to. Then the starting center was busted for drunk driving. Then, Chris Culliver, a cornerback who made an ass of himself during last year’s Super Bowl by making homophobic comments followed that up by getting injured and missing all of the 2013 season. He started this year by getting involved in a hit-and-run and faces criminal charges. Then Colin Kapernick, who was hoping for a reworked contract, was named in an investigation about a woman who says she was drugged and left naked in a hotel room and woke up to find herself in a hospital. No charges have yet been filed against Kapernick and wide receiver Quiton Patton.
Then Aldon Smith, a dominant force on Sundays and a train wreck every other day tested the sense of humor of TSA agents at Los Angeles Airport when he claimed he had a bomb. He didn’t, but those humorless TSA agents arrested him anyway as the 49ers Off-season from Hell continues.
Once is an Accident, Twice is a Coincidence, Three Times is a Pattern. Then there’s All-Pro linebacker’s Aldon Smith‘s crime spree where screwing up three times isn’t a pattern. It’s Friday.
The 49ers have to decide by May 3 whether to pick up the option year of Smith’s contract to avoid him walking away as a free agent in 2015. Or being driven away to prison. Smith would see his pay raised from $3 million to cashing checks worth $9.75 million if the team chooses to take the plunge. They shouldn’t. Smith is too volatile, too erratic, too undependable and too prone to trouble.
Check the record.
Four arrests including two for drunk driving. Gun possession charges including an assault weapon, bomb threats. These are not the acts of someone who is simply high-spirited.
Smith isn’t the most troubled player the 49ers have ever had. Besides Haley, there was Lawrence Phillips and of course, O.J. Simpson, though he hadn’t killed anybody when he was wearing the crimson and gold. At least nobody we know of.
The old NFL cliché about injuries is, “You can’t make plays from the locker room.” You can’t make plays from the courtroom either and that’s where Smith will be spending a lot of time. The legendary Bill Walsh was one of the least sentimental coaches in football history. Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, and Jerry Rice were all-stars for the 49ers and Walsh and his successor, George Seifert sent every one of them out-of-town. Walsh’s philosophy was cold, but pragmatic: “Better to get rid of ‘em a year too soon than a year too late.”
Aldon Smith is an unquestionable talent and losing him would hurt the 49ers in the short run, but he is replaceable. Every player in the NFL is.
The Niners have been here before with a player who had All-Pro talent and an all-time head case. That was Charles Haley, another superfreaky talented pass rusher who was a terror on the field and just terrible off it.
He simply wore out his welcome in San Francisco with several well-publicized outbursts even though he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1991.
In one notable episode, he got so upset after a 1991 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders that the 49ers called on his former teammate, Ronnie Lott, to come out of the Raiders locker room to calm him down.
Coach George Seifert of the 49ers has said that Haley’s departure “helped team chemistry.”
“You never knew when he was going to go off,” 49ers running back Dexter Carter said. “Other guys would kid around and tease, but Charles was different. He was meaner. I didn’t like the guy, and I told him that to his face. And believe me, I’m not alone.”
Haley later learned he was bipolar. Maybe Smith should give him a call and chat?
I’ve heard on sports radio Smith needs help, not condemnation. If Indianapolis Colts Robert Irsay has alcohol issues, it’s already known Smith does after he voluntarily checking into a rehab center with 49ers owner Jeb York standing by his side in the locker room and the approval of Goodell. Neither man will be as accommodating to the troubled linebacker from here on out.
We’ve passed the point of diminishing returns on this dude. The 49ers have become the new Raiders of the NFL with all the criminality and stupidity and Smith is Public Enemy #1. Even if he somehow holds on to his place on this team (and by now it should be by the thinnest of threads), how long is the suspension going to be coming from Roger Goodell‘s office? The commissioner was probably already ticked off by the poor box office performance of Draft Day and when he heard what spectacularly stupid thing Smith had done this time he had to thinking, “Ge’ez, not THIS guy again?”
Giving Smith four games off without pay would be a gift, but Goodell could double the punishment and it still might not get through to Smith how tenuous his future employment in the NFL is. Maybe half or all of a season without football would get through to him. But nothing has before so why should believe it will now?
I hate the idea of Aldon Smith in a Seattle Seahawk uniform terrorizing the 49ers two or more times a season, but I’m beginning to hate the idea of Aldon Smith in a 49ers uniform at all.