Is anyone else praying for 49ers training camp to come any faster than it already is?
Considering the unsavory headlines that have been coming out about some of the team’s high-profile players in the past few weeks, you’re definitely not alone.
Whether you have been in hibernation from 49ers coverage since their NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks in January, or you have chose to ignore it, a lot has happened with the team that has put the organization in a precarious situation.
Forget the $18 million per year demand from its franchise quarterback, Colin Kaepernick; you can even forget about the reported turmoil between head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke, which was enough for the organization to **allegedly** seek a trade for Harbaugh with the Cleveland Browns in exchange for draft picks. What we seem to be talking about leaves a series of black eyes and bruises on the 49ers that will, from both a PR and team perspective, be difficult to recover from.
Let’s start with CB Chris Culliver. You remember him, right? A starter at the secondary who expressed anti-gay sentiments at last year’s Super Bowl lead-up. He just pleaded not guilty to charges of misdemeanor hit-and-run and felony possession of brass knuckles, stemming from a March 28 incident where he hit a bicyclist, and rammed a car who blocked him from fleeing.
A couple weeks later, on April 10, a report came out naming both QB Colin Kaepernick and WR Quinton Patton – along with Seattle Seahawks WR Ricardo Lockette – involved in an alleged sexual assault. However, it should be noted that no one has yet been charged, and Kaepernick has since vehemently denied the claims made by the initial report by TMZ. Details continue to leak about the incident, but Kaepernick’s name has been tarnished, nonetheless.
Sketchy. But alright.
Then, numerous reports made the rounds that LB Aldon Smith – already on the NFL’s radar for the drunk driving incident he had last September – that he was being belligerent and uncooperative after being stopped at LAX on the afternoon of April 13, for what was described as a random screening. I’m sure that was irritating, but what’s the last thing you would do at a major metropolitan airport in this day and age?
If you said “make a comment indicating you have a bomb,” then, congratulations! Not only did you guess correctly, you also guessed exactly what Aldon Smith did.
Now, it’s quite easy – and perfectly appropriate – for any 49ers fan to act incredulous, even outraged, at the actions of all of these players. Personally, I’m angry that all of this is happening – that these players would allow themselves to get into these situations is beyond me. Especially Smith, who was already on thin ice with the team, basically betraying their trust by getting into trouble yet again.
Now, I could look at this from a humanist perspective, and proclaim that, no matter what mistakes these players have made, they need to understand that they will not be thrown away like defective property. The 49ers organization would be better served to try again with Aldon Smith and get him the help that he needs – again; to stand by Kaepernick as the case gets completely cleared up; to get counseling for Culliver to understand the errors in his lifestyle.
Unfortunately, this is not how the majority of people will look at it. Many will cry that we need to get rid of anyone who will not abide by the law, no matter how valuable they are to the team. The 49ers need to send a message – that the integrity of the squad is larger than any one player. Even if one of those players is a defensive stud, and another is a bona fide franchise quarterback. The most realistic solution to all of this PR fire and brimstone, however, is actually a tad bit more depressing than either of the two previous suggestions:
Find a way to keep them all on the team, punish them internally, and have them ready for Week 1.
As much as I don’t like it anymore than I can imagine many of you would, the 49ers, like any other professional sports team, are not the Morality Police. Like it or not, they are in the business of winning. And, because Aldon Smith has proven to be a sack machine in his NFL career (101 total tackles and 42.0 sacks in three seasons), he will most likely stay on the team.
He will more than likely not be suspended by the 49ers – that burden will probably fall on the league, who will most likely be happy to oblige. He will not be cut, because the team knows the suitors for his services would stretch across the entire league if he is.
Furthermore, there are some silver linings to all of these incidents, having to do with the upcoming NFL draft next month, and the potential roster ramifications. Let’s say that Culliver and Smith are deactivated by the team or the league for a significant amount of time in 2014.
That would probably mean the 49ers’ draft strategy changes: in years past, they would usually trade up or down to stockpile picks for the future. In this case, they may decide to hold on to, and use, more picks than previously expected. That may mean drafting a Jason Verrett from TCU at 30th overall, instead of trading up for a Justin Gilbert from OSU. That may mean using another pick for a DE/OLB prospect to possibly replace Smith, if it comes to that. And, don’t forget – they also have Tank Carradine, an impressive defensive line prospect from 2013 that was sidelined with an ACL injury – waiting in the wings to make a difference for the 49ers defense.
Finally, the 49ers may further take the lemons of the Colin Kaepernick situation, and – in a slimy, twisted way – turn it into franchise lemonade. With the Miami incident looming over Kaepernick’s head, it turns into a bargaining chip for the 49ers to use in order to cut the price from the $18 million a year he and his camp was was hoping for, to a more affordable $10-to-$12 million a year deal.
Now, let me make it clear – I’m not happy that these players have opened up the franchise to attacks of morality from both the media and rival fanbases. But in the business of professional football – for the sake of a franchise’s overall success – the franchise may have to make moves it may not be totally comfortable making. When you’re competing with a division rival that just won the Super Bowl, and have not been known to keep a perfectly clean house themselves, sometimes you have to play in the dirt to compete.
And, again, like it or not … the 49ers are firmly in the dirt, now.