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49ers will need to prepare for life without Reuben Foster regardless of outcome

Two arrests (with one involving potentially multiple felonies) are going to shut Foster down for a long time in 2018, maybe the whole season.

Jacksonville Jaguars v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have said they are in the process of collecting information as they figure out their next step with regard to Reuben Foster‘s domestic violence arrest. While that continues, the organization will have another problem regardless of if he is released: figuring out his spot for 2018.

Even if Foster comes out of his situation with dropped charges and no marks on his record, he still has to deal with “The Shield,” and the NFL doesn’t like it when you get arrested for possession of marijuana. Or domestic violence. Or possession of a potentially illegal firearm.

First on the timeline is the marijuana issue. Foster had a diluted sample during a drug test at the combine that essentially put him on double-secret probation. An actual infraction may have left him with a simple slap on the wrist such as a fine or potentially a one-game suspension. Multiple positive tests work their way up to multi-game suspensions, but possession arrests have been treated differently in recent years.

However, Reuben Foster was then arrested a second time, less than a month later. He was booked for domestic violence, making criminal threats, and possession of an illegal firearm. All three charges are wobblers, which means the District Attorney’s office can decide whether to charge them as a misdemeanor or felony. This is a bit trickier. Aldon Smith had multiple arrests stacked together resulting in his nine-game suspension back in 2014.

Recently, the NFL has gotten a lot of domestic violence incidents wrong. Ray Rice received a paltry two-game suspension for his domestic violence incident that later turned to an indefinite suspension after video of the incident became public. Josh Brown was suspended for one game due to a domestic violence incident, later turned to six games after the NFL received “more information” on the matter.

And let’s not forget the possession of a firearm.

The NFL continues to try and not screw up how they handle domestic violence suspensions. The baseline for a first offense is six games. The league reserves the right to increase or decrease that amount based on mitigating or aggravating circumstances. For that reason, if he remains on the 49ers, he will be suspended for more than just a couple games. If history is any indication, he would potentially be looking at at least a seven-game suspension based on the marijuana arrest and the domestic violence arrest. But again, it could end up more depending on the outcome of the NFL’s investigation.

And it often does not matter if the charges are eventually dropped. Sometimes it can result in a suspension, but we also saw in the case of Tramaine Brock that he was not suspended after an initial arrest.

This all means that regardless of whether or not they keep or cut Foster, the team has to prepare to be without him for at least a sizable chunk of the 2018 season. If they release him, ILB will be moved up as an area of need. The 49ers have Malcolm Smith, Brock Coyle, and that’s pretty much it. Coyle is great depth but it’s safe to say he isn’t the game-changing playmaker on defense Foster is.

If kept on the roster, the same issues present themselves. The 49ers ILB group takes a serious blow with a Foster suspension. Either way, the 49ers are going to need to prepare for games without Foster, regardless of if he’s on the roster come Week 1.

Released or not, the 49ers have a need at inside linebacker. Where would you look to fill the hole?