San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith started for the team and played against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, which confused a lot of people who wondered why Smith was on the field at all. On Friday morning, Smith was arrested for suspicion of DUI after crashing into a tree and registering a .15 blood alcohol level. It was his second DUI arrest in less than two years, and head coach Jim Harbaugh took a lot of heat when he said later Friday that Smith would play.
It appears, however, that whatever strategy the 49ers were using before has changed. Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reported after the Colts' 27-7 win that Smith's locker at Candlestick Park was empty, and that his was the only empty locker in the area. Then, team CEO Jed York announced that Smith would not play next Thursday against the St. Louis Rams, and Maiocco followed up with the news that there was no timetable for Smith's return. The team placed him on the non-football injury list Monday afternoon.
After the game, Smith addressed the media: "I want to apologize. I will work to get it fixed."
York was far more expressive in his postgame statement.
"We support Aldon and Aldon’s willing to fight for himself and try to make this right," York said. "And I will stand here and I will take any shots that anybody wants to write [about] the organization, you can direct them to me and I will support Aldon as long as he’s willing to work at this and fight to get better."
York said that it was the decision of Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke to let Smith play in this game, but "[t]hey obviously talked to me about it. And I think again under the circumstances, knowing what Aldon wants to do, I think this was the best thing for Aldon.
"There’s no right answer here. We’re very fortunate that nobody got hurt, Aldon included, and anybody else."
When asked if Smith was going to seek treatment for substance abuse issues, as has been widely speculated, York was a bit more circumspect.
"That’s Aldon’s personal issue. We’re going to support him. I believe Aldon wants to tackle this problem and we’re going to do everything that we can to help him."
Per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, York said something interesting about the way in which this was handled from a financial perspective.
"Our opinion was sitting somebody down and paying them to sit down when they’re going to seek treatment in the future, that didn’t seem like an appropriate punishment. I know it might not sound reasonable. But for Aldon to be able to face the media, face his teammates, and take full responsibility for what he’s doing, we felt that was the best situation for Aldon himself and for the team and ultimately the community at large.
"And I realize people might not agree with that decision. But that was the decision that we felt was best."
According to former NFL team executive Andrew Brandt, "If Smith is placed on reserve/NFI (non-football injury), it is up to the 49ers whether to pay him zero, his salary or something in between."
Smith has a base salary of $1.68 million this season.