Talent excuses most actions in the NFL, but at some point teams reach their tipping point.
Judging by the Mercury News' Tim Kawakami's latest report on linebacker Aldon Smith, the 49ers have passed that line. They're fed up. And, as such, Smith is "probably" not going to play with the 49ers in 2014, Kawakami reported after speaking to team sources. Kawakami said the top of the organization, including owner Jed York and the York family, general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, are all embarrassed over Smith's arrest on Sunday for causing a scene at Los Angeles International Airport and allegedly saying he had a bomb.
And if Kawakami's report about Smith not being a 49er in 2014 comes to pass (and that's not discounting his report, but as far as the team goes, it's a lot easier to act tough in mid-April than it is when you're faced with the reality of losing an All-Pro pass rusher), it would be easy to understand why the team couldn't handle any more. They went out of their way to support Smith after his second DUI arrest last year, and drew criticism for it as he went off to rehab but returned late in the season. Sunday's incident included the detail that police thought he was drinking earlier in the day. That wasn't a factor in his arrest, but it could not have sat well with the 49ers.
There have been recent instances of teams becoming frustrated with extremely talented players and moving on. Philadelphia released receiver DeSean Jackson after a great season. Two teams traded receiver Brandon Marshall early in his career despite great on-field performance, at a lesser price each time. It happens, but it's rare. However, Kawakami wrote that he noticed "a weariness and frustration over Smith’s behavior that I’ve never heard involving any recent 49ers player."
The 49ers can take their time in deciding on Smith's 2014 status, as Kawakami notes. They have to decide to exercise Smith's $9.75 million 2015 option by May 3, and NFL Network reported that seems unlikely to happen even though that money won't be guaranteed and there's not a lot of monetary risk involved. But if the 49ers continue to be as angry about Smith as Kawakami says they are (it was telling on Sunday that the 49ers released a statement saying they were disappointed in Smith before the LAPD ever identified him as the man who was detained, basically announcing to the world that Smith was the one who did it), why even send the message that having Smith in 2015 is possible? It doesn't seem having Smith in 2014 is guaranteed.
If the 49ers were truly through with Smith, they'd have cut him already. By waiting around to see how the legal system treats Smith, they're leaving the door open for him remaining a 49er. Maybe sending out the message through a respected and widely-read columnist that they're this close to cutting Smith is a last-ditch attempt to see if Smith can be scared straight.
The 49ers obviously don't want to get rid of a player as good as Smith, seeing as how they're one of the favorites to win next year's Super Bowl. But no matter how it ends up playing out, it's obvious that the 49ers are at wit's end over one of the best and most high-maintenance players in the NFL.
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- Aldon Smith