Speculation from different media outlets swirled around the fifth-year option after Smith’s latest arrest at Los Angeles International Airport, but it seems as if owner Jed York and the 49ers’ front-office staff want to send a strong message.
As electric as Smith has been as an edge-rusher (42 sacks), the 49ers are doing the right thing by showing him that no man is bigger than the team. Every team has its own breaking point when it comes to particular players and their off-the-field problems.
And it’s clear the Niners hit theirs with Smith. Instead of exercising the fifth-year option out of good faith, they want the All-Pro player to prove he can stay out of harm’s way.
Based on Smith’s past, staying out of harm’s way will be easier said than done. Since he entered the league in 2011, he has been arrested on suspicion of DUI and marijuana possession, charged with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon and charged with a false bomb report.
That’s quite the rap sheet for a player who is 24 years old. Nevertheless, Smith’s extensive rap sheet doesn’t mean the 49ers are ready to part ways with their former first-round pick.
Stephanie McCarroll of Niners Nation believes San Francisco may be tired of his antics, which means it may be trying to scare him with calculated PR moves: "They [49ers] are of course worried he goes to jail or gets suspended by the league. I think they're tired of his antics. This story reeks of good PR. They did that [Tim Kawakami’s story] to put out to public they are unhappy, maybe scare Aldon a bit."
McCarroll makes a great point: Something that hasn’t been talked about enough is the fact that the 49ers may be trying to scare Smith straight. The notion that this may be happening isn’t a popular one, but it makes a ton of sense.
Think about it: What’s the best way to get a message across to a player who repeatedly makes the same mistakes off the field? Taking $9.754 million (the amount of Smith’s fifth-year option) off the table is a good start.
Yes, taking money off the table could damage the 49ers’ relationship with Smith, but they seem to be OK with this. Why? Because they have the upper hand in the situation right now.
It’s not like they are starved for pass-rushing talent at outside linebacker. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in 284 snaps last season, rookie Corey Lemonier tallied 24 quarterback pressures and one forced fumble.
Obviously, the sample size was incredibly small, but his performance on a per-snap basis was impressive nonetheless. This, in turn, means Lemonier is capable of stepping in and performing at a high level in Smith’s absence.
Per Doug Williams of NBC Bay Area, Jim Harbaugh likes what he sees from the young pass-rusher. "Pass-rushers are hard to find,” Harbaugh said of Lemonier, adding, “It’s exciting, seeing him do the job he’s doing.”
Furthermore, the 49ers have a plethora of draft picks for the second straight year. If Smith is suspended for an extended period, San Francisco could draft an edge-rusher to pair with Lemonier.
According to Pro Football Talk, the Niners worked out one edge-rusher (Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State) to date, so the possibility of selecting one on draft day is definitely on their radar.
But we have to keep in mind that the discovery hearing on April 29 will help answer a lot of the questions we spent time speculating on. The hearing probably won’t offer up a resolution, yet it will give the 49ers a slightly better idea of things in advance of the May 3 fifth-year option deadline.
Until then, the one thing we can do is sit back and applaud the 49ers for sending a powerful message. Smith needs to feel his seat getting warm. He needs to feel the pressure of losing out on $9.754 million. He has been an eyesore for the organization off the field ever since he was drafted.
It’s about time San Francisco used scare tactics to get his attention. Sometimes, that’s the only way players learn that they are not invincible and above the law.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.