Wednesday afternoon saw domestic violence and criminal threats charges dropped against San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster. Additionally, the illegal weapon possession charge was dropped from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Foster returns to court on June 6th for the gun charge, and has a June 20th court date in Alabama for his marijuana possession charge. He also faces a potential suspension based on those remaining charges. The NFL has repeatedly said they will continue monitoring developments. Given that both charges are misdemeanors, they will likely be sorted out fairly quickly, with plea deals the most likely result. My guess is he faces a 1-3 game suspension, but given the NFL’s inconsistent discipline process, who knows.
What’s more important in the context of the 49ers is his status with the team. Shortly after the court hearing ended, 49ers GM John Lynch announced that Foster is allowed to rejoin the team as soon as Thursday.
“The organization is aware the domestic violence charges against Reuben Foster were dismissed earlier today. As a result, he will have the opportunity to rejoin the team tomorrow. It has been made clear to Reuben that his place on this team is one that must continue to be earned. We will continue to monitor the remaining misdemeanor charge.”
The third sentence in that statement speaks volumes. The 49ers did not beat their chest about being right on this. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have generally shown restraint over the past year and a half, so I was not expecting that. Instead, they made it clear the slate is not clean just because two charges were dismissed.
The 49ers have OTAs the next two and a half weeks, and then have a three-day mandatory minicamp. However, there are plenty of off-days during that stretch and then until training camp. They can provide Foster with structure during football activities, but what about during the down time? At what point will they be able to fully trust Foster when they are not able to keep an eye on him?
The trust issue is not about the domestic violence charge. Although he showed a temper at last year’s Combine that got him sent home, his since recanted accuser’s story suggests he did everything in his power to get away from her that day in February. I won’t say I’m “happy” about that, but I am certainly glad that domestic violence is off the table.
The February report stated that police detected the smell of marijuana in the house when they were investigating the allegations. Marijuana is legal in California, so the only reason to mention it is because of any concerns about intoxication that might have led to what the police believed at the time might have happened.
However, for purposes of playing football, marijuana is a bigger is a bigger issue. Foster was placed in the league’s substance abuse program last year because he failed a drug test at the NFL Combine. He did not test positive for a drug, but rather had a diluted sample, which is treated as a failed test for purposes of the program.
Placement in stage one requires a minimum of 90 days in the program (Program PDF). I’m not entirely sure what Foster’s status was at the end of the season, but his arrest would put him back in the program, or advance him further along if he was still in the program. Recently, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris was suspended one game for a marijuana possession arrest. That has been the general baseline for marijuana arrests.
Which brings us back to the smell of marijuana in the house. I personally don’t care if someone wants to smoke marijuana, and think it should be legalized nationwide. That being said, the NFL has rules about marijuana, and discipline for those who do not follow the rules. We don’t know if it was Foster smoking the marijuana, but given his history, it’s not exactly a stretch to think he is still smoking marijuana.
Going back in the substance program (or being advanced further into the program) means regular drug testing until he is discharged from the program. If he ends up suspended for one game and fails further tests, he faces potential suspensions that would only increase in severity.
Whether we think he’s a “good guy” or not, he is putting the team at risk if he chooses to continue smoking marijuana while in the drug testing program. Outside of the program, it’s actually quite easy to smoke marijuana and avoid failed drug tests. You get tested once in the offseason with the window opening April 20th. You know when the window opens, and once you pass your drug test, you won’t get tested again in the offseason and thus are welcome to smoke to your heart’s content. But being in the program opens the door to nearly limitless drug tests, and thus means continuing to smoke puts you in position to face suspensions.
While I’m glad the judge exonerated Reuben Foster on the domestic violence charge, the team recognizes they are not out of the woods in terms of keeping Foster on the field.