The season can’t arrive soon enough for the San Francisco 49ers, if only to end and offseason that has seen their head coach move on to Michigan, the retirement of several star players and now the DUI arrest of pass-rusher Aldon Smith, his third such arrest since 2012. Friday afternoon, the 49ers decided to cut their troubled standout sack artist, according to ESPN.
Given that string of bad news, the grass surely must be greener on the other side of the offseason. Or maybe not. Turns out the Niners’ turf in their new state-of-the-art stadium likewise has problems.
It wasn’t that long ago when the Niners were hailed as a model franchise in the new-era of the NFL. Building through the draft in a way that produced stars and depth at a number of positions, San Francisco went 36-11-1 between 2011 and 2013, reaching the NFC championship game all three years and the Super Bowl in 2012. However, last season we started to see some cracks, which spider-webbed their way throughout the franchise until it ultimately fractured at the season’s end.
First Jim Harbaugh, held in high regard around the NFL but not, apparently, inside his locker room agreed to part ways with the franchise, ultimately taking the head coaching job at the University of Michigan. He was replaced by defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, an interim head coach for the Niners in 2010 but otherwise lacking experience in the lead role.
The roster Tomsula will inherit has been reshaped by a wave of retirements, including stars such as linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive end Justin Smith. Right tackle Anthony Davis and linebacker Chris Borland also hung it up, noting medical concerns. Those losses, combined with the regression by promising quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season, have many pundits pegging the Niners to fall back from the upper echelons of the NFC. That seems particularly likely with West division rivals Seattle firmly entrenched at the peak, and Arizona and St. Louis on the rise.
Now their best remaining defensive player, Aldon Smith, is gone after another alcohol-related incident — a battle Smith has fought in the past. Smith missed five games during the 2013 season when he entered a substance abuse treatment program.
Smith did tell the media Friday morning the arrest was not for a DUI. That may or may not change things in terms of his future in the NFL and any potential punishment from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has seldom hesitated to punish players he believes have tarnished the league’s reputation.
All of this leaves a once-proud franchise in disarray, reeling instead of realizing the brilliant future many thought was in store for a team that nearly won the Super Bowl three seasons ago. With a tough intra-division schedule and non-conference games against the AFC North, a division that could produce three playoff teams this season, it seems almost certain San Francisco will take another step back this season. But after this miserable stretch that has been their offseason, even that may seem like a welcome development.