Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith has had his fair share of trouble, but despite all that, here is why he deserves another chance.
In 2016, the Oakland Raiders posted a 10+ win season and qualified for postseason play, both things they haven’t been able to do since 2002. Despite suffering a year-ending injury in the second-to-last week of the regular season, quarterback Derek Carr finished tied for third in MVP voting, and was tapped as the league’s most clutch player of the year. Likewise, All-Pro linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack continued his ascent into stardom, winning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
As a whole, behind the leadership of coach Jack Del Rio and Reggie McKenzie (both of whom have since been awarded four-year contract extensions) the franchise’s profile took a dramatic leap from perennial cellar-dwellers to consensus contenders of the future.
All of that –– all of that, and fans have spent half of the time talking about a player who hasn’t been on the active roster, let alone taken a snap since November of 2015.
Welp. Here we go again.
Surely by now, you’re aware that Aldon Smith was “interviewed” over the weekend by San Francisco police for an “domestic incident” involving a young woman that may or may not have taken place at Smith’s home, but that he was apparently present for in some form or fashion. As always with Aldon, there are a lot of questions to be answered as it pertains to this situation and the ramifications it may or may not have regarding his pending reinstatement into the NFL. Suffice to say, it does not look good.
Back in December, right around the time that the “If/When Will Aldon Smith Return in 2016?” narrative had reached a fever-pitch, I clearly and correctly predicted to you all that he would not sniff the field, for several different but generally interrelated reasons. Mainly this one, though:
"If we’re to be mad at anyone involved, it’s Aldon Smith. If we’re to be impatient with any facet of this process, it’s how Aldon has handled himself to this point.More specifically, my gripe with Aldon is that on a fundamental level, he has approached his reinstatement into the league with a stunning level of recklessness and arrogance, and in doing so, has wantonly and repeatedly driven his return to football into the ground, with the same speed and force he uses to sack quarterbacks (or drunkenly hit parked cars, whichever metaphor tickles your fancy).Never mind the Periscope. Just in the past few weeks, as he’s become eligible for reinstatement, Aldon has treated his return as though it’s a sure thing, as though he is entitled to resume his playing career, simply because he has seemingly met a list of admittedly vague and arbitrary requirements.From that end, his efforts to project himself as “rehabilitated” come off more as a “look at me, I’m checking all of the boxes” type of public presentation, and less as genuine, contrite efforts to be a better human being."
Does any of that sound or look familiar?
How about now? No? Ok. Put a pin in that, we’ll come back to it.
Last week, Just Blog Baby intern/mail clerk Gagan Auijla wrote and somehow convinced our editor to publish a post saying that the Raiders should “end the Aldon Smith experiment”. Per the intern:
"At this point, Aldon Smith has become a distraction. It has been exactly 447 days since we have seen Smith on the field. Who knows if the Raiders will even get the same Aldon Smith that everyone once knew?Even if Smith could make an impact, there is no telling whether he could get into trouble again, and cost the Raiders more of a heartache down the road.If released, the Raiders would save $5.75 million in cap space with no dead money hit. And with upcoming extensions on Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, Reggie McKenzie will need every penny he can find to keep the roster competitive."
That’s actually decent, salient reasoning from a guy that spends his time thumbing through Tupperware catalogs and learning how to color inside the lines. Yet and still, the intern’s argument is short-sighted at best, and of course, I’m about to tell you why his article teeters the line of FAKE NEWS. More importantly, I’m setting myself up for an article a year from now where I come back tell you why I’m always right.
What I’m not about to do is wax poetic on how we’re all human and we all make mistakes and deserve second and sometimes even third chances. Since being drafted 7th overall by the 49ers in 2011, Aldon has been, um, pretty busy:
- Arrested in 2012 for DUI
- Was present and/or somehow involved in a fight at his house that left him stabbed
- Charged in 2013 with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon related to the aforementioned stabbing incident.
- Arrested in 2013 for DUI and possession of marijuana
- Arrested in 2014 at LAX in a bizarre incident revolving around an alleged “bomb threat”
- Arrested in 2015 for DUI, hit-and-run and vandalism
Depending on how you’re keeping score, Smith is on like his sixth or seven chance in life, let alone within the confines of the NFL. Based solely on the nature of his offenses, it’s somewhat miraculous that this guy is even breathing and functioning. At the risk of sounding judgy, he is a walking, talking liability to his himself and those around him.
With all of that said and acknowledged, I present to you this fact: the sport of football is centered around leverage. The outcome of every snap at every single position on the field is predicated on leverage. Leverage is why Khalil Mack was the league’s best defensive player this year. Leverage is why Amari Cooper can make the best corners in the league look pedestrian.
That fact extends past the white lines and into the front office. Contracts are negotiated and signed based on the amount of leverage each party has. Derek Carr is going to get a record-setting contract in a few weeks, not only because of how his play has consistently improved over his three years as the starter, but also because of how magnificently the team imploded in his absence at the end of the year. He and his agent are walking to the table with an incredible amount of leverage in their arsenal.
In the case of Aldon Smith, Reggie McKenzie was already working with a ton of leverage when he made the decision to sign him in 2015, and then extend his contract in 2016. The team-friendly deal is a trademark of McKenzie’s, so it’s no surprise that Aldon’s contract contains no signing bonus and no guarantees — simply incentives that pay out based on his on-field performance.
Which is to say, that the Raiders have already largely protected themselves financially against Aldon’s chronic dumbassery. As Moe Moton pointed out a few weeks ago, the Raiders aren’t and haven’t been paying for an inactive player. Their ties with him are loose and can be severed as easily as one could, say, press play on a Periscope broadcast.
Aldon’s latest situation doesn’t change any of that. There’s still a lot that has to play out over the next few weeks as his long-looming date of reinstatement draws near, of course (not to mention the legal proceedings from his last arrest being resolved next week). If he winds up facing any additional sanctions or punishment, then the Raiders’ questions are answered for them — Smith’s career will likely be over, and the team can proceed can continue to proceed forward without him, no love lost.
On the other hand, if Aldon is somehow cleared of this latest incident both legally and by Dictator Goodell (it should be noted that his penchant for dodging the worst possible punishment is almost as consistent as his nose for trouble), then for all intents and purposes, it makes too much business sense not to try and put Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, and Aldon Smith on the field together at the same time.
If Aldon isn’t the same guy, in the end it will all have been a minor investment for the Raiders. Playing poorly won’t net him any of the incentives in his contract, and may even see him deactivated or cut, saving the team even more money against his deal.
But if — and this may be the biggest “if” in the history of ifs — IF Aldon is both allowed to come back and performs even marginally close to the player that had 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons in the league, then I have no problem in stating that everything up to this point will have been worth it. That player makes the Raiders one of the most dangerous teams in the league on either side of the ball, and that’s a recipe for a championship.
There’s been chatter about how Aldon might fit into the Raiders’ “new culture”. For all of his drama, Aldon has never been labeled a negative presence in the locker room. Notable players from both units have been nothing but publicly supportive of Smith, and while I’ve always argued against the notion that he should be reinstated as an incentive to keep him out of trouble off the field, I don’t deny that being around influential guys like Derek Carr and Bruce Irvin would be beneficial to that end.
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In fact, Smith has only been a “distraction”, as the intern so eloquently labeled him, to Raiders fans champing at the bit for his presence on a below-average defense. The fans who understand the basic tenets of accountability and privileges know and acknowledge that until he is given the go-ahead to play, with no looming legal issues to face, Aldon Smith is little more than a figment of the Nation’s rabid, sometimes overactive imagination.
All in all, the risk of losing Smith to another stupid off-the-field choice is the same as it’s always been and would be for any team that employs him. For the Niners, the loss was a premier pass rusher and the investment of a first-round pick. For the Raiders, it’d be a little over a million dollars base salary and a roster spot.
Of course, I haven’t said anything that the Raiders don’t already know. And that’s the point — they’ve managed their involvement with Smith expertly. To echo the sentiments of both Del Rio and McKenzie, if and when Aldon gets his life together and the NFL allows him to play football again, great, we’ll welcome him with open arms. If not, God bless him in his future endeavors, notably, not dropping the soap. The Raiders will press forward in continuing to work toward their ultimate goal.
But unless this latest incident reveals that Smith put his hands on the young lady involved, then I don’t see any reason the Raiders should cut ties with him just yet. In a sense, we’re right back where we started with Aldon when he joined the team in 2015. The legal system and Ginger Rog will both have their say, and as long as the Raiders are content to sit back, wait and see, then I’m content to do the same.