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The 49ers will not have two of their best defensive players on the field for the first half of the regular season.
The NFL on Friday announced outside linebacker Aldon Smith is suspended without pay for the first nine games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s policies on substance abuse and personal conduct.
Smith will be eligible to return to the 49ers’ active roster on Monday, Nov. 10, following the team’s Nov. 9 game against the New Orleans Saints, the NFL announced.
The appeals process has already run its course, according to sources. So the nine games will be served. Smith will be allowed at the 49ers' training facility in Santa Clara during the suspension.
“Our organization has known this decision would come and we have prepared for it as a team," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. "Aldon has taken responsibility for his actions and has continued to show growth personally and professionally. We will continue to support him, but it is time to put this matter behind us and focus on the season ahead.”
Smith will miss games against Dallas, Chicago, Arizona, Philadelphia, Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver, St. Louis (again) and New Orleans. His first game back would be Sunday, Nov. 16, at the New York Giants. Smith will be available for both games against the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers will also open the season without All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who continues to rehab from a knee injury he sustained in the NFC Championship. Bowman starts the regular season on reserve/physically unable to perform, which makes him ineligible for the first six games. The 49ers hope Bowman will make a midseason return.
Smith was the 49ers’ best defensive player through most of training camp. He appeared stronger, quicker and more focused with his legal issues behind him. Smith has been a dynamic player through three NFL seasons with 42 sacks in 43 NFL games.
“He’s had a heck-of-a training camp,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said recently. “He’s really taken his game to the highest level.”
Upon reporting to training camp in late-July, Smith credited his sobriety for being in top physical condition.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve been in, coming into a camp,” Smith said. “And my mind is probably in the best spot it’s been in. So I’m feeling great.”
Smith took a voluntary leave of absence last season to seek treatment for substance abuse after being charged with a DUI following single-vehicle accident in San Jose on Sept. 20.
He missed six weeks, including five games, and Goodell said in October that Smith’s decision to seek treatment would be factored into the league’s ultimate decision on discipline.
The 49ers were bracing for a suspension from six to eight games, sources recently told CSNBayArea.com. Last season, the 49ers replaced Smith with two players. They are expected to take the same approach early this season with Dan Skuta playing on base downs and Corey Lemonier entering as a pass-rusher. The 49ers could also use Tank Carradine and, possibly, rookie Aaron Lynch in pass-rush situations.
Smith faced discipline under the NFL’s policy on substance after pleading “no contest” to DUI charges. He was sentenced to serve 11 days on a work crew. Also, he faced discipline under the NFL’s personal conduct policy for possession of illegal assault rifles under California law. A judge reduced the felony charges to misdemeanors.
Smith was previously arrested on suspicion of DUI in Miami Beach in January 2012. That charge was later reduced to reckless driving after he completed an alcohol education and prevention program.
Goodell on Thursday sent a letter to all 32 owners that promised the NFL will take a stronger stance on stance on domestic violence and sexual assault. He also outlined his feelings on DUI and weapons.
“In addition to focusing on domestic violence and sexual assault, we will continue to maintain strong policies regarding weapons offenses. We are similarly working to strengthen our response to impaired driving,” Goodell wrote.
“We have sought -- unsuccessfully -- for several years to obtain the NFLPA’s agreement to more stringent discipline for DUI, including mandatory deactivation for the game immediately following an arrest and a minimum two-game suspension for a first violation of law. We will continue to press our position on this issue in the hope of securing the union’s agreement.”
Not only did Smith suit up against the Indianapolis Colts two days after his arrest last year, he played all 72 snaps in the 49ers’ 27-7 loss on Sept. 22 before entering into treatment the next day.
Smith had another incident in April that did not result in any criminal charges.
Smith missed practice on July 30 as he took part in an office hearing in Los Angeles, in lieu of facing criminal charges for an alleged false report of a bomb threat at Los Angeles International Airport stemming from an incident in April.
In May, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Smith’s contract amid reports the team would decline the option. The No. 7 overall pick of the 2011 draft, is scheduled to earn $9.754 million in base salary for the 2015 season.
“I’m a firm believer in the humanistic approach to everything,” Baalke said. “You continue to work, just like you would with any family member. We’re a family. You just don’t open the door and toss people out of it. You continue to work until they leave you no choice.”