Smith, in dominating and devastating almost every left tackle that he faced in his rookie season, made more than a name for himself; he became one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. If it weren’t for his “passing down” role in the 49ers’ defense, he most certainly would have passed Von Miller to take the crown for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Once considered a “stretch” as the 7th overall pick, Smith silenced his critics with phenomenal play and a professional demeanor.
He more than exceeded expectations in his first NFL season. As his abilities grew, so did his celebrity. His bank account? That was already as sizable as any 7th overall pick’s bank account could be. What a promising future this little-known defensive end out of Missouri had.
The start of the NFL offseason brought a DUI for the 22-year-old. This certainly raised a red flag or two for the 49ers organization and its fans, but it had to just be a blip on the radar. Smith is quiet and well-spoken. There were none of those big show, diva antics that we faced with Michael Crabtree after the 49ers drafted Smith, so surely this would be the end of his shenanigans, right?
Then came the story of Smith being stabbed, and the reports of the raucous parties that Smith was frequently hosting at his home in Santa Clara. From a soapbox, it’s easy for us to judge him: “Get it together kid! You’re being paid to play for and represent the 49ers, and you’re giving us a bad name!”
Maybe it’s not that simple.
Kevin Lynch wrote a terrific piece about Smith after the incident in which he pondered if this was a cry for help. After all, Smith was always known as a responsible young man – he got good grades in school and generally stayed out of trouble. With very little information about the situation, beyond what we read or the pictures of the parties that get leaked on Twitter, all we can do is speculate. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and given that I’m only 3 years older that Smith, I have a few of my own.
Aldon is young
How easily we all forget that Smith is only 22 years old. 22 YEARS OLD. Stop and ask yourself what you were doing at 22. Now add these ingredients to that slice of your life: pretend you were physically gifted, famous and filthy stinkin’ rich. 49ers fans may expect Smith to spend his evenings cuddled up with a playbook and an Arnold Palmer, but I think we know better. I was nothing but mischievous at 22 years old, and I barely had a dollar to my name. There would’ve been no end to the fun (and trouble) that I would have had if I was making over $3M a year.
This is all speculation of course, but there is no telling what kind of impact all of Aldon’s friends (new and old) are having on him. I was certainly impressionable and easily swayed at 22. Who knows, maybe Smith is completely independent and perfectly capable of making his own decisions. But with plenty of people hanging around looking for a good time, we may never know how much of Smith’s decision making is based on what his friends want him to do.
Keeping up with the vets
Plenty of veterans have used Smith’s house as a place to cut loose this off-season – both the source in BASG’s earlier article and the pictures from the photo shoot are evidence of it. (There’s a nice shot of Boobie Dixon wearing a drunken smile. If you haven’t checked those pictures out, you really should take a minute to do that).
The life of an NFL player can be a wild one – just ask Pacman Jones. To assume that Smith hasn’t been trying to keep pace with his teammates – not just on the field but off as well – is completely absurd. I’m certainly not pointing any fingers because Aldon is capable of making his own decisions. But if his teammates don’t start to set a better example for him after this latest situation, then they’re not doing their job. This should be considered strike number two. Someone needs to try and keep Aldon in check, even if it’s just with a friendly nudge every once in a while. As for Aldon, may be should spend less time with Dixon and more time with Justin Smith.
Time will either shed light on this stabbing situation or sweep it under the rug, but the events that follow will be important in determining just how strong this locker room and this coaching staff really are. Aldon Smith is one of the most important pieces in this championship-caliber defense. The next few years of his career will determine just how special that draft “stretch” really was.