Niners could have deactivated Aldon Smith without a fight from NFLPA

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As the 49ers embark on their first game without linebacker Aldon Smith, who has taken an indefinite leave of absence due to substance abuse rehab, one question that keeps coming up is whether the team could have and should have benched Smith on Sunday against the Colts.

The team believes that it had no ability to take punitive action against Smith, under the labor deal. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, however, the NFLPA would not have objected to a benching of Smith, as long as he received his paycheck for the week.

Technically, teams can’t suspend players with pay. Prior to 2006, that was a permissible tactic. After the Terrell Owens case (which came after the Keyshawn Johnson case), the union inserted language into the CBA preventing teams from sending players home with pay.

But teams still have discretion when it comes to decisions made in the best interests of the team and the player. In this specific case, if the 49ers had decided that Smith shouldn’t play two days after an arrest for suspicion of DUI, the NFLPA would have respected that.

Every week, seven players on the 53-man roster are paid to not play. They’re on the team, they’re paid, but they don’t suit up for the game. In Smith’s case, having him not play due to the Friday arrest would have been viewed as being as legitimate as having him not play due to a Friday injury.

The 49ers didn’t consult with the union on that point, we’re told. Instead, it seemed that the 49ers relied, as a knee-jerk reaction, on the presumption that great players always play.

In the team’s defense, the timing wasn’t conducive to making a deliberate and well-reasoned decision. The issue arose on a Friday, the hay was in the barn for the contest against the Colts (with Smith firmly in the game plan), and great players always play.

The quick exit Smith made from the team after Sunday’s loss shows that major life decisions were made by Smith in a tight time frame, regarding both the admission that he has a problem and his willingness to spend roughly a month in an in-patient facility to beat it. As he made these decisions, he also had to be ready to play a pro football game — and then he had to play it.

With the benefit of hindsight, we suspect that the 49ers would have handled the situation differently. Though the right thing ultimately was done, a man in need of in-patient treatment of a chemical dependence issue shouldn’t have been playing football on Sunday.

While there’s no playbook for situations like this, Smith’s situation could provide a useful precedent if/when similar circumstances arise in the future.

18 responses to “Niners could have deactivated Aldon Smith without a fight from NFLPA

  1. peytonsneck18 says:
    Sep 26, 2013 8:07 PM
    it didnt matter, we still Debo’d them, in their own home too!!!
    We? Which position did you play?

  2. To the 49ers, winning was more important than making someone take responsibility for their actions. They believe crime pays, and do whatever it takes to win. Not surprised.

  3. In my opinion, the actions that he is taking to fix his problem are way better than any punishment the NFL or the 49ers could have handed down to him. How many times have we seen players just continue to make the same mistakes over and over and just occasionally have to deal with the scrutiny that comes with it for a few days? Smith is attempting to tackle his situation head on and I applaud him for that. People forget that he’s still a young man and it’s probably scary as hell to do what he is doing right now.

  4. … or maybe he came clean to them in a private meeting, promised to change, swore he would go to treatment and take it seriously, then begged their forgiveness. In such a case, giving him one last opportunity to experience what it is he will be missing may help him to keep such promises and really internalize what he has lost. If they really care about him as a human being, giving him the opportunity to see what redemption will look like could help him to get through the hardest parts of treatment and emerge on the other side clean and sober. It’s certainly worth the try. I have to commend the 49ers if this is what motivated them.

    It’s easy to be cynical, and I tend that way. But I can see the power that this kind of perspective could have, and I have to commend it until I KNOW it isn’t real.

  5. I suspect the 49ers stadium is quiet b/c the fans want to sit, enjoy a beer and root for the millionaires to do all the work. Whereas BeastMode5150 and his buddies enjoy having to pay $100+ to sit in a stadium and do 1/12 of the work for the team.

  6. How on God’s green earth was he allowed to practice given his alleged bac approx 2x the limit just a few hours before? What Dr and or Lawyer cleared that? There was also some mention of pills. Can you imagine if he had a health issue that day. I realize back in the day they played drunk. But we aren’t back in the day. The whole situation seems to caught 49ers unprepared. Not their finest hour.

  7. Isn’t it an assumption that the NFLPA wouldn’t object?

    The players not activated on game day tends to be guys at the bottom of the depth chart in their respective positions or injured but not severe enough to go to IR and just need some rest.

    The NFLPA has fought a lot of disciplinary action over the year, deactivating a guy @ the top of chart(with no injury) will be viewed as an attempt to circumvent the inability to suspend guys.

    Had Owens played with the terms of the current CBA, what do you think the Eagles would’ve done? Deactivate him on game day. The end result is a suspension by the team without calling it a suspension.

  8. Say what you like about Bill and the Patriot way…

    They talk the talk and walk the walk from Hernandez to Wes Welker and the foot fetish..

    Your #1 receiver who you game planned around out for being a funny smart ass out for this monumental game vs Jets – and they paid for it.

  9. poridge1214 says: Sep 26, 2013 10:12 PM

    I suspect the 49ers stadium is quiet b/c the fans want to sit, enjoy a beer and root for the millionaires to do all the work. Whereas BeastMode5150 and his buddies enjoy having to pay $100+ to sit in a stadium and do 1/12 of the work for the team.

    Still hurtng after that beatdown huh?

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