It has been a very rocky off season in San Francisco and it could get much worse. On Wednesday, the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office confirmed that 49ers rush linebacker, Aldon Smith pleaded no contest to felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, as well as misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence. Smith now awaits sentencing, which is scheduled for July 25. The pass rushing phenom could face up to a maximum of 52 months in prison–a little more than four years–depending on the judge’s ruling, though, even if Smith happens to dodge wearing an orange jumpsuit, there is bound to be discipline from the NFL.
By pleading no contest to the charges, Smith has violated both the NFL’s personal conduct and substance abuse policies, both of which are infractions that league commissioner Roger Goodell has not taken lightly since coming into power. Adam “Pacman” Jones, for example, was suspended by Goodell for the entire 2008 season for his involvement in an altercation at a night club. Terrelle Pryor was suspended five games before even playing a down in the NFL for his involvement in a scandal at Ohio State University. Justin Blackmon is suspended indefinitely, and his career is very much in question after repeated violations of the substance abuse policy. Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, and Vincent Jackson are just some of the other notable players that have been suspended for their off-field transgressions under Goodell’s watch.
It is ridiculous to think that Smith will come away unscathed by his actions away from the game, and the 49ers know it. The concern, however, is whether they have a back-up plan in the event they are without Smith for a long period of time. If he must serve a sentence, the defense may have to move on without him permanently. The team is already without All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman due to injury, and has lost three of last season’s four starting defensive backs to free agency. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier filled in adequately for Smith during his mid-season absence last year, but the Niners knew, that at some point, they would get their star back. That may not be the case this time around. Suddenly, the defense that has carried the 49ers in the past several seasons may need to lean on the offense in order for the team to continue rolling with the same level of success they have been enjoying.
It is not July 25 yet, however, and there is still time to prepare for whatever the outcome may be. The 49ers must move ahead and continue to support their star while preparing for the absolute worst. It is not easy to replace an All-Pro, but luckily San Francisco is a team that has plenty of young and talented players that are fighting to get on the field. If there is a squad that is equipped to survive without such a star, the Niners might be just that.
For Aldon Smith, it is imperative that he stays out of trouble and works hard to avoid the kinds of situations that are detrimental to his career, as well as his future as a father and a contributing member of society. Many pro athletes have been in his shoes, and it is not entirely about what someone has done. Often it is more about what that person does from that point on. Smith has made the first step toward taking responsibility for his life. He has pleaded no contest to the charges against him and now sits at the mercy of the judge while he awaits his July 25 sentencing. All Smith and the 49ers can do now is sit back and wait for the verdict.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky