49ers’ Aldon Smith to Pay to Play in 2014

By Matt Rogers

It was reported on ESPN today that Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers’ All-Pro Outside Linebacker, will be paying the 49ers to play in the team’s last seven games of the season rather than returning early, as he reportedly had hoped. Smith is currently serving a 9-game suspension for separate violations of the league’s substance abuse policy and personal conduct policy. For this reason, Smith will be ordered to pay the 49ers for forfeiture of a signing bonus that was agreed to when Smith was drafted by the team in the 2011 NFL Draft.

The amount that Smith will be ordered to pay is determined from his salary, which was $525,000 for the final seven games of the season, and the signing bonus valued at $661,000 . This is substantial because nothing like this has ever happened before in any of the major sports leagues, at least in the United States. This occurrence sets a precedent that athletes, at least in the NFL, will be held more accountable for continuously ignoring not only the policies agreed up by the players’ union and the league owners, but also ignoring the laws.

Smith has had at least two DUI charges that have been reported, which lead to his substance abuse suspension. What lead to his suspension for going against the personal conduct policy was what essentially lead to  such a harsh punishment to be handed down on Smith. It was reported in April 2014 that Smith was detained for allegedly becoming belligerent with airport officials, eventually that he had a bomb in his possession. This is a crime that is taken extremely seriously, especially after the tragic events that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Ultimately, Smith was not charged, but he was still subject to a lengthy suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The suspension that was handed down was the aforementioned 9 games, which was a result of the multiple DUI charges and the incident that occurred at the airport in April.

Though Smith was suspended, he was not suspended for a whole season, making him eligible to return in the 49ers’ Week 11 matchup against the New York Giants. This would mean that Aldon Smith be paying to play in the final seven games rather than sitting out the entire season and still paying the team back the signing bonus.

A precedent like this is something that professional league’s should definitely adopt in the future because when a contract is signed, and a signing bonus is agreed to, there are certain parameters that are also agreed to by both sides. It was also interesting that this was reported on national TV, especially during a year where the league has seen two of its highest profile players, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, facing criminal charges for domestic violence and child abuse.