Aldon Smith will work again in the National Football League. You may bank it now.
In other words, his release by the San Francisco 49ers Friday morning after his arrest for DUI is only a statement that Jed York has finally had enough – of him, of the notion that talent always trumps other circumstances, and that the 49ers’ Annus Horribilis has finally reached critical mass.
In August. God only knows what comes when they actually play a game.
A day ago, the team was being battered by a derisive nation because it could not motivate grass seed to do the only thing grass seed can actually do. Now, all the old ghosts are back with a vengeance, and in our endless desire to make one size of ridicule fit all circumstances, they remind us that the organization’s fall from grace is staggeringly precipitous but not necessarily complete.
Put another way, people in the Bay Area are far more disgusted by the 49ers than by the Raiders, and the Raiders are trying to leave for Los Angeles. Now THAT’S big-time revulsion.
Smith’s ongoing alcohol issue is the most serious matter, of course, but for purposes of this discussion, the decision to release him rather than, say, suspend him for a year with pay and make him spend that year more directly confronting the demons within him, is a statement about the team’s descent from grace that oddly began when they lost Super Bowl XLVII. Oddly, because the Raiders’ descent into their present circumstances began with their loss in Super Bowl XXXVII.
But perfectly predictable because it started the tensions between York and Jim Harbaugh that shifted the organizational dynamic into tensions, petulance, backbiting and ultimately open rebellion that created a box into which every seemingly unrelated incident to follow fit neatly.
The 49ers as the dynamic forward-thinking model of modern success is utterly gone, and replaced by a rolling public disaster that brings one fragmentation grenade of national ridicule after another. No matter what happens to them, it will be linked to their apparent inability to comprehend and develop success.
Harbaugh leaving? Agendas run rampant. The Jim Tomsula press conference? Lousy prep by the people surrounding Tomsula, who deserved better even today. Surface Of The Sun Stadium? Poor planning in search of profit and glory. All the player departures? Either they hated Harbaugh or hated the organization. Even Chris Borland? Well, that’s gotta be someone’s fault even if it isn’t. The player misconduct? Lack of organizational direction.
Fair? No. Life in the new NFL? You bet. Life in the Internet age? Without question. Even chickens that weren’t theirs are coming home to roost.
You name it, they are being used, fairly and not, as an example of an organization that seemingly lost its ability to speak, let alone speak authoritatively, about itself.
That the team sent Tomsula to explain Smith’s release is another example of their general and purposeful retreat from the public eye. This was Jed York’s presser to give, only he was in Canton for Charles Haley’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This was Trent Baalke’s presser to give, only he hates dealing with the media because, well, because of some nitwit idea that he’s just too important to be bothered.
Indeed, this is the team’s new crisis – the fact that it cannot speak for itself, and it raises a fresh question. Is Baalke and his media-phobic world view the best fit for this image-shattered organization? Has his football acumen been trumped in York’s eyes by his inability to provide a coherent public face that ran from the one it helped create in Harbaugh?
And yes, the public face matters when you’re trying to fill a new stadium that cannot deal with seemingly basic concepts like sun shade and photosynthesis. And yes, the public face matters when the man running the team is being compared unfavorably to his father, who was routinely savaged locally and nationally for his decade of diffident management. Jed York needs either to become an actual public figure who answers for his team in good and bad times, or find someone who will be, and Trent Baalke is increasingly showing himself to be unwilling to do so.
Let’s be clear here. Aldon Smith’s failing is Aldon Smith’s failing, and may he find his peace sooner rather than later, and benignly rather than in tragedy. Aldon Smith is now a separate issue because the 49ers have made him one.
But the organization itself is left with the bigger picture, which is almost entirely dark, and their most powerful figures have handled it by turning to full flight, a level of cowardice and irresponsibility that only makes all the seemingly isolated incidents that came before it look all the worse.