The 49ers released Ray McDonald today after news broke that he had his house searched and is the suspect in a rape investigation, which goes along perfectly with the rest of the 49ers season.
Columnists and pundits will probably skewer the 49ers for how they handled everything revolving around player discipline this season. This criticism is well deserved; they probably could have handled things better and hopefully they will do so in the future.
The 49ers stood behind due process when the reports of domestic violence were levied against McDonald earlier this year, but the team has changed course. “Ray’s demonstrated a pattern of poor decision-making that has led to multiple distractions for this organization and this football team that really can no longer be tolerated,” Trent Baalke said.
There is without a doubt truth to this, but lets not be naive and believe that the 49ers getting eliminated from playoff contention last week in Seattle has no baring on their decision. This move isn’t free and does have costs for the 49ers — there will be $4,609,971 of dead money on their salary cap next year — but without a championship to fight for, that’s a small cost compared to the bad publicity that would come with keeping him on the roster.
With the team already eliminated from the playoffs, the cost of doing the right thing was lowered. The tradeoff of losing a talented player isn’t nearly as steep as the PR hit the team would’ve absorbed had they kept him around. This is the way that the sports in general work and the NFL in particular.
As much as teams like to talk about being good community ambassadors and players as role models, the ultimate goal is winning. Winning papers over mistakes and makes looking past the ugly parts of how teams get to the top easier. Talented players get more leeway.
McDonald was actually in the middle of his best season since 2011 according to Pro Football Focus, which graded him out as the 11th best 3-4 DE in the league. This is why the 49ers kept him around while he was investigated for domestic abuse. This is why the 49ers have kept Aldon Smith on the team even though he, more than anyone else on the roster, should probably fall under the “pattern of poor decision making” paradigm for release.
Is this right?
I highly doubt the 49ers will see a wave of season ticket cancellations in response to McDonald’s actions, or even the combined indiscretions seen from 49ers players in recent years. And if some “49er faithful” don’t tune in to watch the team this weekend, it’ll be because of their place in the standings, not their standing in the community.
The 49ers aren’t evil or different than any other sports team. Hypocritical in how they explain things? Yes, probably because coming out and simply saying “so and so is too talented or important” is not what we as fans want to hear as we go along with the charade that allows us to escape with sports. Winning is the priority for everyone involved. If you can do that, almost everything else will be forgiven. This is just the latest example, and it will not be the last.