Entering the season with a revamped secondary and questions around the return of All-World linebacker NaVorro Bowman, the San Francisco 49ers may play the 2014 without another key cog in their elite defense, elite pass rusher Aldon Smith. In the latest in the line of off-the-field issues, Smith was arrested at LAX this past week in a bizarre case that involved Smith declaring that he had a bomb with him. In the past couple of seasons Smith was charged with multiple DUI’s and completed rehabilitation for issues with alcohol. Through all of his off-the-field issues the 49ers have supported Smith, but according to the San Jose Mercury News that may be coming to an end. According to Tim Kawakami its likely Smith sits out the entire 2014 season. Beyond potential team disciplinary issues it’s possible that the NFL suspends Smith for an extended period of time, if charges are pressed against him.
Smith’s legal issues are the latest in a handful of off-the-field incidents the 49ers are dealing with this season. Chris Culliver, an important part of the 49ers revamped secondary, will soon be charged for a recent hit and run incident. The 49ers are likely to hold onto Culliver, who will play a major role for the team due to the loss of multiple cornerbacks in free agency. This past week quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s name came up in relation to a “suspicious incident” that Miami police are still investigating. It’s unknown whether or not Kaepernick will be charged with anything, but any potential drama around Kaepernick will be yet another distraction for the franchise. It’s been an eventful offseason, beginning with rumors that the team actually looked to trade Head Coach Jim Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns. The Harbaugh story was followed by a tough free agency period where more of the 49ers impressive defensive depth was picked apart by NFL free agency.
The potential loss of Smith may be a major blow to the 49ers pass rush. Smith forms a tremendous combination with defensive end Justin Smith. Couple the loss of Aldon Smith with the devastating knee injury that NaVorro Bowman is returning from and the 49ers linebacker corps is clearly diminished. Bowman is a unique player, an every down player, who will likely be replaced by a handful of players as well as changes in scheme. With the 49ers secondary rebuilding, including new safety Antoine Bethea, a solid pass rush will be important. Corey Lemonair, who showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, is the logical replacement for Smith. San Francisco also has a massive number of draft picks in the upcoming NFL draft, with ample opportunity to pick up potential pass rush talent.
Whether or not they can find a player who can average a sack a game, like Smith, is another story. In an offseason where they were forced to replace exiting talent at several positions, the distraction of another Smith incident is exactly what the 49ers didn’t need. With Seattle coming off of a Super Bowl title the 49ers will need their typical elite defense. If they are unable to make up for their losses on the defensive side of the football they could be looking at another wild card run next season. By Chris Cabrera