ALAMEDA – Aldon Smith is under contract with the Raiders but not allowed to represent silver and black. It’s a strange limbo period, brought upon by a calendar-year suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
He won’t return until November at the earliest, only after being formally reinstated by the league. The Raiders will be without his services most of the 2016 season for certain, but still wanted to re-sign the unrestricted free agent to a two-year contract this offseason.
Player and team formed a strong bond when he spent two-plus months in Oakland last season, one that both sides believe will become a fruitful working relationship. The Raiders have to wait for Smith, but they aren’t counting the days until his return.
“He’s not allowed to be here at all until November,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “So, we’re not counting him until then. At this point, we’re just carrying on as a football team.”
That leaves the Raiders with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin manning the edge rusher spots. Mack moves around, but anchors one side of the defensive line. Irvin will be a rush linebacker, someone who can cover well when asked.
Del Rio believes a good defense needs three pass rushers, and they’ll have a trio when Smith returns. That’s not the case right now, with little behind Mack and Smith off the edge. Mario Edwards Jr. can play wide, but it isn’t ideal for a strong interior rusher. There’s some remaining uncertainty when his neck injury will allow him to return at full force.
While the timing isn’t set, the Raiders should get Smith back. That would seem to block thoughts of using a high pick on an edge rusher during next week’s NFL draft.
The Raiders say that’s not the case, and that Smith won’t impact their selection process. They’ll pick like he’s not in the mix.
“Number one, you can never have enough guys to rush the quarterback,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “It really doesn’t matter if we’re projecting him being here or not.”
Smith has pressing personal matters at hand. He’s facing misdemeanor charges of DUI with a prior conviction, hit and run and vandalism under $400. His jury trial begins May 2.
Smith’s charges stem from an Aug. 6 incident that ultimately got him released by the 49ers. He signed with the Raiders just before the regular season. He had 28 tackles and 3.5 sacks in nine games before being suspended.
Coaches and Raiders brass aren’t allowed to have contact with Smith during this suspension, though players have kept in good touch with Smith.
“That’s what players do. They stay in touch,” McKenzie said. “They connect. I don’t have to go out of my way to say, ‘Hey, do this or do this.’ Players will see upon themselves to do that.”