1:44pm: The 49ers have officially confirmed Smith’s release. The team issued the following statement:
1:33pm: Aldon Smith‘s latest off-field incident will be his last as a member of the 49ers. According to Jim Trotter of ESPN (via Twitter), the Niners have decided to release Smith following his arrest in Santa Clara late Thursday night. Per Mike Loyko (Twitter link), Trotter said on ESPN that the team made the decision after Smith met with GM Trent Baalke and refused to accept responsibility.
Smith, 25, was arrested by Santa Clara police on hit and run, DUI, and vandalism charges, though when he was released from jail this morning, the outside linebacker disputed the fact that he had been driving under the influence. The incident is the latest in a series of off-field run-ins for Smith, who has had DUI arrests in the past, and missed nearly half the 49ers’ games over the last two seasons after entering a rehabilitation facility in 2013 and serving a nine-game suspension in 2014.
When he’s healthy and on the field, Smith can be one of the league’s most effective pass rushers, as he exhibited during his first two years in the NFL. As a part-time player in his rookie season, Smith recorded 14 sacks, and he piled up another 19.5 as a starter in 2012, en route to a spot on the All-Pro first team. However, his off-field issues have limited his production since then.
Baalke spoke earlier this week about wanting to lock up Smith beyond the 2015 season, but a new deal for the linebacker would have been contingent on him staying out of trouble. The Niners protected themselves in the offseason by renegotiating Smith’s contract to convert most of his base salary into per-game roster bonuses and incentives. Now that he has been cut, the former seventh overall pick won’t have a chance to earn that bonus money.
By releasing Smith, the 49ers will create in the neighborhood of $3MM in cap room, leaving just $1.6MM in dead money on their cap. Had the team not reworked the linebacker’s deal, he would’ve been on San Francisco’s books for a guaranteed $9.754MM, so the club’s foresight paid off.
The 49ers’ defense has already taken several hits this offseason, making Smith’s absence the latest blow to an increasingly depleted unit. The team saw cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox depart in free agency, while defensive end Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland all decided to retire.
With Smith no longer in the mix, Ahmad Brooks, Aaron Lynch, and third-round rookie Eli Harold will be leaned on more heavily in San Francisco. The club also signed free agent linebacker Steve Beauharnais, who recently worked out for both the Niners and the Colts, to take Smith’s spot on the 90-man roster, tweets John Middlekauff of 95.7 The Game. However, Beauharnais is more of an inside linebacker, and may not crack the team’s Week 1 roster.
As for Smith, after missing nine games last season due to a suspension, he’s now under review for further discipline from the NFL, a league source confirms to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (Twitter link). We recently saw Junior Galette, another talented pass rusher with off-field red flags, catch on with a new team shortly after being released by his old team, but Smith may not find a new job as quickly, as one general manager tells Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report (Twitter links).
“For now, not touching him,” the GM said in a text message to Freeman. “No one will for the moment. Every team will wait and see … We won’t see Aldon Smith in an NFL uniform until next season.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.