The 49ers have vowed to support Smith, who is 24 and in his third season with the team. But you have to wonder, if Smith’s troubles persist, how long that support will remain strong. Even while he is away from the team, Smith’s alleged past missteps affect the club, which is trying to carry on without its star pass-rusher.
Smith was charged Wednesday with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, charges that stem from a party at his home in June 2012. He also faces a civil suit from the party.
This development was not unexpected by the team. The 49ers knew it was possible Smith could face charges. But this is just another day with Smith in the headlines for the wrong reasons. At coach Jim Harbaugh’s availability on Wednesday there was a news crew present, specifically because of Smith. Instead of answering questions about Sunday’s game against Arizona, Harbaugh was peppered with questions about a player who is not currently on the 53-man roster.
Harbaugh handled the situation with patience, professionalism and tact. But it was another reminder of the distractions Smith can create.
Don’t get me wrong, the 49ers want Smith back. But they want his troubles behind him. Smith is a supreme player. Based on his on-field performance alone, he should be closing in on a monster contract extension. Under normal circumstances the 49ers likely would work hard to lock him up in the offseason.
Instead, Smith, who likely will face an NFL suspension for his off-field behavior, not to mention potential prison time stemming from his weapons and DUI charges, will have to prove he can stay out of trouble. When he returns to the team, perhaps in the coming weeks, he will be welcomed with open arms.
But that could change if the 49ers have to continue to answer questions about his off-field transgressions.