SANTA CLARA – The 49ers on Friday parted ways with Aldon Smith, the football player. But general manager Trent Baalke reiterated that the 49ers did not part ways with Aldon Smith, the person.
While coach Jim Tomsula was announcing the decision for the 49ers to release Aldon Smith at a press conference on Friday, Baalke said he was spending time with Smith. The 49ers released Smith, who was arrested Thursday night on suspicion of DUI, hit and run, and vandalism, according to Santa Clara Police.
“Yesterday was a tough day for a lot of people,” Baalke said Saturday after CSNBayArea.com approached him after practice. “(I) felt very comfortable with coach going to the podium so that I could handle something that I felt needed to be handled personally.
“(I) spent hours with him in making sure we felt comfortable he was in a place where he’s going to be OK.”
Baalke clearly has a personal attachment to Smith, 25, whom the 49ers chose with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft. It was Baalke's first draft after being promoted to 49ers general manager. Smith recorded 14 sacks as a rookie, and the Pro Football Writers of America voted Baalke as the NFL's Executive of the Year.
Baalke said the decision to release Smith was made before Tomsula and Baalke met with Smith on Friday morning after his fifth run-in with the law in the past 3 1/2 years. Baalke said there was nothing that Smith could have said that would have kept him on the team.
“The decision was made and it was something that we had a plan in place, and we'd discussed with him,” Baalke said. “We’re working hard, and he was working hard, and he’ll continue to work hard.”
Baalke said the 49ers have pledged to give Smith as much help as he’s willing to accept from the 49ers – and as much assistance as they can give a player under terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Smith has battled substance-abuse issues while with the 49ers.
Smith was arrested in Miami on a DUI charge in January 2012. He entered a diversion program for first-time offenders and charges were reduced to reckless driving. In September 2013, he was arrested on suspicion of DUI after crashing his vehicle into a tree in San Jose. He pleaded no contest to DUI charges. He missed five games that season as he entered a treatment program for substance abuse.
“What we fail to realize a lot of times in this business is the human side of it,” Baalke said. “There are a lot of emotions, not only with the player, but with everyone in the organization. He was very well-liked. Obviously, we placed a lot of time and energy into helping him and we’ll continue to do that. He’s not going to walk this thing alone.
“This isn’t about football. Everybody wants to make this about football. It has nothing to do with football right now. It has everything to do with a human being and a quality, quality person. Everyone who’s met him understands that. But he’s made some mistakes.”
Baalke said he has not received any calls from teams to inquire about Smith, who is free to sign with any team immediately. If he faces any discipline from the NFL, it would like not come until after the current incident meets its conclusion in the legal system.
When asked if Baalke would ever consider bringing Smith back to the 49ers, Baalke did not rule out the possibility but said it's much too early to address that topic.
”That’s something I don’t even want to speculate at this time,” Baalke said. “The immediate concern is for him and his well-being. We’ll continue to communicate with him. From an organizational standpoint, we do anything to help him.”