San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith is in the midst of multiple legal issues between Santa Clara and Los Angeles. He faces a combination of DUI and gun possession charges in Santa Clara, and a false report of a bomb threat at Los Angeles International Airport. The former is in the middle of the judicial process, with charges already filed, and a discovery hearing scheduled for April 29. The latter is at the beginning of the process, with police still working to present their case to the LA District Attorney's office for consideration of charges.
Given how weird the LAX situation sounds, it is entirely possible Smith ends up not facing charges for his actions down there. If he made a stupid sarcastic comment, maybe he faces no charges, or maybe he ends up paying a fine, and that's it. It's possible they decide to go after him hard on this, but we're still waiting.
But even if he does not face charges in LA, league discipline remains a very real possibility, if not a likelihood. When a player violates the personal conduct policy a first time, the league usually waits until a disposition of the specific proceeding. The only exception is when "the available facts clearly indicate egregious circumstances, significant bodily harm or risk to third parties, or an immediate and substantial risk to the integrity and reputation of the NFL."
However, if a player is a repeat offender, the NFL reserves the right to expedite league discipline (bold emphasis is mine):
With respect to repeat offenders, the Commissioner may impose discipline on an enhanced and/or expedited basis. In such cases, the timing and nature of the discipline will be determined by the Commissioner based on several factors including but not limited to: the severity of the initial charge and later charge; the facts underlying the later charge; the length of time between the initial offense and later charge; and the player or employee's compliance with counseling and other programs. Following a full investigation and/or resolution of the proceedings, the Commissioner will review the matter and make any appropriate adjustments.
Even though Smith may not face legal charges in the LAX incident, the NFL can potentially impose discipline because Aldon couldn't quite keep his nose clean. Even if this just ends up being a situation where he made a stupid sarcastic comment, it's one more incident in a run of them for Aldon. And even if the police mention of alcohol was misplaced, Aldon lacks the benefit of the doubt because of his background. The NFL very well could still decide it's time to lower the boom on Aldon. Whether he misses 4 or 8 games, or even a full season remains to be seen, but it has to be on our radar.
Tim Kawakami put together an article yesterday that featured discussion with various anonymous sources "involved with the 49ers' decision-making." It read as a bit of a doom and gloom piece, and it has resulted in a lot of people providing misinterpreted hot takes about the article. People have proclaimed that this means the 49ers might release or trade Smith sooner rather than later. The article reads as disappointment by the team, but Kawakami actually goes out of his way to say that he does not see the team releasing Smith.
Kawakami said that in his view, Aldon Smith probably does not play in 2014:
My view, after talking to several sources involved with the 49ers' decision-making, is that troubled linebacker Aldon Smith hasn't only lost the benefit of the doubt, he probably won't play for the 49ers in 2014.
If Aldon faces a suspension, I don't think that it necessarily impacts the decision to pick up the option. Any potential suspension decision is probably not announced until later this offseason, after the May 3 option deadline. The bigger question for the option is whether or not Aldon's Santa Clara troubles escalate.
The two sides originally had a discovery hearing scheduled for April 11. The hearing was carried over to April 29. This could be because the DA is still accumulating evidence, but it also could be because the two sides were progressing in plea negotiations. In light of Aldon's potential problems in LA, what if the DA or judge decide Aldon needs to face the music given his follow-up issue? What if they decide he doesn't quite get it yet, and they will only cut him a plea if it involves some measure of jail time?
There is no indication jail time is in the offing. The Santa Clara DA is aware of the LAX situation, and I have to think they'll at least consider it in plea discussions. I doubt we have any resolution by the April 29 date that Kawakami keeps proclaiming, but the 49ers will at least have a slightly better idea of things in advance of the May 3 deadline. I'd imagine the 49ers will at least know if the DA and judge are playing hard ball in plea negotiations.
I still think the 49ers end up picking up the option, but the progression of this case on April 29 is going to be something to watch. The 49ers decision to pick up the option is going to depend in part on how they view their long-term future with Aldon. If they think he can be a productive member of the team (on AND off the field), maybe he spends the rest of his career with the 49ers. But if they think he's not getting his head on straight, and not kicking his issues, maybe they decide they will not pick up the option. He's got his guaranteed money coming his way in 2014, so he's not anywhere going this year, aside from a potential suspension.
But for anything beyond that, the 49ers have some things to figure out in the next 17 days. We'll see a lot of chatter about him in the coming two weeks, but we'll get at least some kind of resolution by May 3. It will not answer every question, but it will get us moving in the right direction.