Last year, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh took notice of the rival Seahawks having players suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, and Harbaugh used the Seahawks’ troubles as an opportunity to explain his own philosophy about holding players accountable.
“We want to be above reproach in everything and do everything by the rules,” Harbaugh said.
Now one of Harbaugh’s most talented players is putting that stance to the test.
Aldon Smith, the dynamic pass rusher who was the first player the 49ers drafted in Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach, has been arrested again, this time for claiming he had a bomb at airport security. Police say Smith appeared to be drinking before the incident, which is of particular concern because Smith missed five games last year while spending time in a rehab facility following a DUI arrest. That was the second DUI arrest for Smith during his time with the 49ers, and he’s also currently facing felony weapons charges stemming from another incident.
Whatever else you can say about Smith, he is most certainly not “above reproach in everything.”
This puts Harbaugh in a bind. Harbaugh has already faced some criticism for allowing Smith to play in a game against the Colts last season, after the DUI arrest but before he went into rehab. The fact that Smith apparently still hasn’t learned his lesson will open Harbaugh up to more questions about just how many second chances Smith is going to get.
If Harbaugh, 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke and 49ers owner Jed York really want to show that they’re serious about being “above reproach,” they could release Smith. But that’s extremely unlikely. When a player as talented as Smith gets into trouble, teams usually decide that they simply can’t get rid of a great talent, no matter how many off-field headaches he causes.
The 49ers have every right to make that calculation, but the next time Harbaugh is asked about another team’s troubles, he probably shouldn’t hold up his own team as a symbol of being above reproach in everything.