A year ago at this time the future was a very clear and bright one for San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith. While he had a dip in his play towards the end of the 2012 season, Smith had ended the regular season with 19.5 sacks and for a while looked like he would break the single-season sack record held by Michael Strahan. Fast forward to now where while the future for Smith on balance still is promising, the fact is that he must answer some questions before the team and he can move forward on certain fronts.
As has been was well publicized, Smith was arrested on suspicion of DUI and possession of marijuana on Sept. 20, 2013 after he was involved in a single car accident. Soon after this arrest, Smith would check into a rehab facility which saw him miss five games during the 2013 season. The single car accident arrest was not the first blotch on Smith’s record as he has had two prior run-ins with one of those being a pending case from an alleged incident that took place back in June 2012.
Even though he missed those five games, Smith would go on to finish the regular season with 8.5 sacks after needing some time to regain his fitness. In the postseason, Smith has another 3.5 sacks while forcing a fumble and having a fumble recovery to his name as well. Smith’s talents and ability as one of the premier pass rushers cannot be denied as he has 42 regular season sacks in his first three seasons in the NFL.
All of this makes this upcoming season an important one for Aldon Smith and the 49ers as they can begin to engage in contract extension talks with his rookie contract set to expire in 2015. Under any normal circumstances it would go without saying that a big money deal would be due and deserved for given that Smith’s ability to rush the passer has him in an elite list of players. Yet given his off-field troubles and a few other factors, Aldon Smith will have to use this offseason as a platform to demonstrate that he can be entrusted with a big contract.
First and foremost, Smith will have to show that he can behave and stay on the straight and narrow when not in the bubble that is the organized regimen of an NFL season. Given that his last off-field incident occurred in-season, Smith will have to really show he is a changed man for the better. Given that there is still a pending case to his name, Smith cannot slip up at all if for nothing else than to avoid more legal trouble.
If he is able to go through this offseason and continue to show growth as an individual and demonstrate that what he learned in rehab is setting in then he and the team can then begin to engage on contract talks. But any potential discussion of a contract extension and locking Aldon Smith up to a long-term deal can only come after the player proves that the time is right to engage in such discussion.