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Strange Days Are Ruling the Season’s Start

Not much has gone according to expectations so far in what’s proving to be an unpredictable 2013, plus my thoughts on Aldon Smith. By the way, I thought the Browns were tanking

The Giants are 0-3, the Jets are 2-1 and the Saints' defense is shining. Who knew?

The Giants are 0-3, the Jets are 2-1 and the Saints' defense is shining. Who knew?

 “You never pick up where you left off from one year to the next,’’ Bill Parcells used to say. (Maybe he still says it, for all I know.) Don’t the NFC playoff teams from last year know it. Those six teams are 6-12 this morning.

That is the 2013 season after 47 games.

I’ll take Startling Stats for $800, Alex.

San Francisco is supposed to define defense. The Niners have allowed 84 points through three weeks. New Orleans (last in team defense last year) and Indianapolis (26th last year), combined, have allowed 86 points.

The AFC East stinks, right? The AFC East is 9-3. Every team in the division is 1-0 against the NFC.

Those guys making the commercials—how are they doing? Robert Griffin III is the 20th-rated passer in football, and, scrambling in the pocket Sunday, was caught from behind by a Detroit defensive lineman. Colin Kaepernick is 25th. Right behind Bay-mate Terrelle Pryor. And 12 slots below Alex Smith.

That first London game, Pittsburgh-Minnesota in Week 4, sure seemed like a gem when it was announced five months ago. The Steelers and Vikings are a combined 0-6.

Offensive rookie of the year? This morning, it’s Chicago guard Kyle Long. The human sack machine, Jay Cutler, has been sacked three times in three games.

So you’re saying there won’t be a New Jersey vs. New Jersey Super Bowl in the New Jersey Super Bowl. Eli Manning and Geno Smith are 1-2 in the NFL in interceptions, with eight and six.

But I’m confused, Mr. Trebek. Jordan Cameron is seventh in the league with 20 receptions. Cameron Jordan is ninth in the league with 3.0 sacks.

Strange days indeed. On to the news of a particularly newsy Week 3.

***

The Aldon Smith Decision

Jim Harbaugh is a meteor in the coaching sky. A star. Until Sunday, when the Niners lost their second game in a row (27-7 to Indianapolis), Harbaugh hadn’t lost two games in a row in three years. He and his team will recover from the events of the weekend; they're  just too good, too talented. But the world will be watching this Aldon Smith rehab to see if Smith, and the 49ers, are seriously going to address a career-threatening problem, because there have to be legitimate questions about it after Smith played a full game Sunday.

Aldon Smith was taken into custody for suspicion of DUI Friday morning (top) after running into a tree, where cops allegedly found Smith with his foot still on the accelerator after the accident.

Aldon Smith is "suspended indefinitely" after being arrested on Friday for suspicion of DUI. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Smith, the team’s star pass-rushing linebacker, was found in his sport truck Friday morning at 7 a.m. about a half-hour from the Niners’ facility in Santa Clara, Calif., the truck up against a tree in a yard. When the police arrived, he blew a .15 on the breathalyzer test, almost double the legal limit in California. Keep in mind, he was supposed to be at the team facility for meetings and practice within the hour, and he obviously would have been in no condition to be there. He was arrested, jailed, bailed out, and practicing with the team just after noon local time. Right after practice, Harbaugh said he assumed Smith would be playing on Sunday, and he did. Smith played all 67 of San Francisco’s defensive snaps against the Colts.

Last season, a Niners special-teams player, Demarcus Dobbs, was arrested early on a Friday morning and charged with DUI and marijuana possession. The team left him home from a trip to play St. Louis that weekend, meaning Dobbs didn’t play. But Smith is not Demarcus Dobbs. Smith is one of the best defensive players in football, and different rules apply to great players than to marginal ones.

After the game, Smith apologized, and the Niners said he would taking an indefinite leave. I reported last night on NBC’s Football Night in America that Smith would be entering an in-patient facility to deal with his problems—Smith has been arrested twice for DUI in the last 20 months, and he was stabbed at a house party in 2012, and sued from incidents at that party. “This is a problem, and it’s something that I will get fixed,’’ Smith said after the game.

Under league policy, teams cannot suspend players for substance-abuse issues. That’s up to the league and the league only. So until his case is adjudicated in a California court in November, Smith would have been allowed to play—unless the 49ers deactivated him and paid him his regular weekly 2013 compensation of $230,759 not to play.

“I think this was the best thing for Aldon,’’ said 49ers CEO Jed York. “And again, there’s no right answer here.” Maybe not—but unless this is a long, serious and intensive rehab process, the 49ers will look like users, and Smith will look like a pawn. We’ll be watching to see if Smith, and the 49ers, take this as seriously as they claimed they would Sunday night.

I would not have played Smith Sunday were it my decision. I wouldn't have abandoned him and let him go off to get in more trouble than he already was in. He would have been with the team all weekend—at Saturday meetings, on the sideline Sunday—but there are some things that are just more important than playing in a football game. If it sends the wrong message to sit a guy and pay him $230,000, so be it. I just don't think it's right to let him play.

One other thing: The next big issue on Roger Goodell’s agenda—and on DeMaurice Smith’s as well—has to be tougher penalties on DUIs. This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s potentially a life-and-death one, for the drivers and the innocents in their way.

The strange business of trading in the NFL.

The Browns abandoned the season—supposedly—by trading Trent Richardson after two weeks, flew to Minneapolis to play a 2012 playoff team, and won their first game of the season with a third-string quarterback starting.

The Colts traded a first-round pick for Richardson, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft. On Sunday, the 250th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Ahmad Bradshaw, was Indy’s best back, rushing 19 times for 95 yards in a 27-7 upset win at San Francisco.

My takeaways from this deal, and the future of the two teams:

Cleveland will be doomed to fail unless they get on a path and stick to it. In the six seasons since 2008, the Browns have had four different front-office regimes: Phil Savage as GM (2005-08), George Kokinis as GM (2009), Mike Holmgren as president and Tom Heckert as GM (2010-12), and Joe Banner as CEO and Mike Lombardi at GM (2013). That has led to the kind of schizophrenic decision-making that, if I was a Browns’ fan, would cause me to go crazy.

In 2011, the Heckert/Holmgren group traded the sixth pick in a very strong top of the first round (Von Miller, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, Patrick Peterson, J.J. Watt) to Atlanta for two first-rounders, a second-rounder and two fourths. What they got in return:

It's Complicated

Who won the Trent Richardson deal? Peter King says the Colts got the better of the swap, while Robert Klemko defends the Browns.

2011 first: Defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a decent starter, who Cleveland had to deal up six spots to acquire. The tradeup cost Cleveland its third-round pick. Kansas City used that pick to select Justin Houston, who leads the NFL in sacks this morning.

2011 second: Wideout Greg Little, who has been a marginal starter.

2011 fourth: Fullback Owen Marecic, cut by the new regime in camp this summer.

2012 first: Quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is in the process of being replaced as the Cleveland quarterback.

2012 fourth: Used in the trade to move up to draft Trent Richardson.

Essentially, the bounty of picks the Browns received for the one the Falcons on Julio Jones resulted in one player likely to be an average to above-average starter: Phil Taylor, who plays about 60 percent of the defensive snaps. And it cost Cleveland the equivalent of Justin Houston to move up to get Taylor.

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Now for the Richardson part of this. Cleveland had the fourth pick in 2012. The Browns tried hard to move up to pick Andrew Luck and failed. They could have traded down a bit and picked the third quarterback in the draft, Ryan Tannehill, but he wasn’t the apple of the front office’s eye. Though there was zero chance Minnesota would use the pick to take Richardson, and a very small chance the Vikes would trade down very far, Cleveland, to move up one spot in the draft, gave Minnesota fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks. Eighteen games into his Cleveland career, Richardson was traded for Indy’s first-rounder next year. Let’s say Indy lands where it did last year—in the wild-card round, giving the Browns the 24th pick in the 2014 first round. That’d mean Cleveland traded Richardson plus three picks for the right to move down 21 spots in a draft two years later.