49ers’ outside linebacker Aldon Smith was arrested Friday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. This is not the first incident with Smith as he has had other run-ins with the law since joining the 49ers in 2011. Smith was also arrested in January of 2012 in Florida for DUI (although the charges were knocked down to reckless driving) and has been named in a lawsuit by a man who was supposedly shot during a party at Smith’s house that same year. Smith was reportedly stabbed at the party as well.
Smith, who may very well face a suspension, is turning into a conundrum for the 49ers. He is, without a doubt, one of the most talented defensive players in football and has proven to have game changing ability. Smith has 37 sacks in 34 games which is the fastest anyone has ever gotten to that total in NFL history. Through the first two games of 2013, Smith leads the team with 3.5 sacks and has been the only 49er player to get any kind of consistent pressure. Pass rushers like him are very difficult to find and when teams have one they rarely let that player go.
Smith’s rookie deal keeps him signed through 2014. There have been some whispers that the 49ers would want to extend him early when he becomes eligible after this season. The thought was Smith would command top dollar and could find himself being one of the highest paid defenders in the league. Consider Green Bay’s Clay Matthews just signed a five-year 66 million dollar extension with a 20.5 million dollar signing bonus. Then consider that Matthews has 43.5 sacks in 60 career games. That’s only 6.5 more sacks than Smith in 23 more games. Smith could have easily demanded (and rightfully so) a bigger deal than Matthews and odds are he would have received it.
After the most recent events, however, the 49ers may have some pause in committing long term to Smith. Instead of extending him well before his deal is up (as the 49ers have shown a tendency to do with their core players) they may want to let the next year or two play out. The 49ers control Smith this season and also in 2014. After that, they can franchise him for the 2015 season. The franchise tag rate for linebackers is a little over 9 million which, even if it goes up to around 10 million in 2015, is a bargain for a player of Smith’s talents.
That scenario would allow the team to see if Smith matures before committing upwords of 10% of their salary cap space to him. It just doesn’t make sense to commit a long term deal that could handicap your team cap wise to a player who seems to have some loose cannon tendencies. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out for Smith and the 49ers and whether these incidents are looked back on as bumps in the road or mistakes made by another player who ultimately derailed what could have been a hall of fame career.
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