Throughout a 49ers preseason that presented major questions about the current roster, the organization was waiting for one major shoe to drop – concerning one Aldon Jacarus Smith.
Today, that shoe dropped, and it fell hard, squarely on Smith’s head.
In the wake of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell putting his foot down on the domestic violence issue in the NFL (more specifically, making up for the lenient suspension of Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice) by instituting a lifetime ban for repeat offenders of domestic violence, it became clear that Sheriff Goodell was back. And he continued his disciplinary storm of fire and brimstone by making an example of the oft-troubled 49ers linebacker.
Smith, a repeat offender with a rap sheet including multiple DUIs, possession of firearms and an alleged false bomb threat, received a nine-game suspension for his past transgressions. The league broke the suspension down thusly:
Four (4) games for violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy; and
Five (5) games for violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Despite Smith’s stint in rehab early in the 2013 regular season, which kept him out five games, it made little difference to the league, or the Commissioner; especially when taken into account that his latest offense – the bomb threat – came afterwards. In any case, the All-Pro defensive player will be eligible to return on November 10, in time to play in the 49ers’ Week 11 matchup at MetLife Stadium, against the New York Giants. In the meantime, Smith will be allowed to attend meetings at team facilities while serving his suspension.
Ultimately, it is difficult to say that the suspension, for what it was and what it considered, wasn’t warranted. After all, the guy has only been in the league for three seasons, and has found himself on the wrong side of the law on multiple occasions – all instances being high-profile and damaging to the team. The only hope, at this point, is that Smith can somehow learn and grow from this tumultuous episode – and that the 49ers can help him through it.
Conversely, the ramifications of Smith’s suspension are already reverberating through a squad full of as many question marks as championship expectations heading into the 2014 season. They will also be without All-Pro LB NaVorro Bowman, who suffered a gruesome ankle injury in last year’s NFC Championship game, leaving the 49ers without their two best linebackers for at least half of the regular season. Only time will tell if a combination of LBs Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody, Chris Borland and Aaron Lynch (the latter two being rookies) can make up, in any way, for the loss.
Additionally, with their offense looking as inept as ever during the preseason (save for a backup-laden 40-13 win last night in Houston), it is difficult to believe if they have what it takes to rival the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC West title – let alone be good enough for a playoff spot.
For Aldon Smith and the 49ers, they will be facing their own particular storms. For their sakes, let’s hope their mutual support can help weather those storms, together.