A player who was poised to become one of the best pass rushers in league history had his career interrupted in a way that had seemed permanent. Even though he has a new deal with the Cowboys, the interruption may still be permanent — for three reasons.
First, despite the dramatic relaxation of most aspects of the substance-abuse policy, the reinstatement procedures for players indefinitely suspended under the policy have not changed. At all. The Commissioner still has exclusive discretion to determine who gets back in. The Commissioner still has no deadline for making a decision. The player, when reinstated, still faces another indefinite ban for any violation of the substance-abuse policy.
Second, Smith’s latest suspension arose not from a positive marijuana test but charges of DUI (along with hit and run and vandalism). In the new CBA, the consequences for drunk driving have increased, not decreased. It could be much harder for him to get back in than it will be for a guy who simply had too many positive tests for street drugs.
Third, Smith hasn’t played in more than four years. That’s a ridiculously long break from football at the highest level. With no guaranteed money in his deal, the Cowboys won’t hesitate to pull the plug on the experiment if he’s nowhere close to what he used to be, assuming the league lets him back in.
Here’s hoping that it all works out for Smith. But, remember, every player who gets a second chance takes away someone else’s first chance. Before Smith claims a 53-man roster spot that would otherwise go to someone else, Smith needs to show that he’s more worthy of a 53-man roster spot than that someone else.