SANTA CLARA (AP) — More than missing one of the game’s most menacing pass rushers, the San Francisco 49ers care that Aldon Smith can carry on with a healthy life off the field over the long haul.
With or without football.
Smith received second chance after second chance with the Niners before they finally had enough following his fifth run-in with the law. The franchise parted ways with the troubled but talented linebacker Friday after Santa Clara police accused him of drunken driving, hit and run and vandalism.
It’s a tough blow for a team that watched several other young stars depart and retire this offseason.
“I’m just more concerned about him as a person,” receiver Anquan Boldin said. “Football doesn’t come into play when it comes to a situation like that. My whole thought is just making sure he’s OK as a person.”
The move came only three days after general manager Trent Baalke expressed his desire to keep Smith beyond this season, which would have been a contract year.
Instead Friday, Baalke and coach Jim Tomsula met with Smith at team headquarters after he left jail to inform him he was no longer part of the team.
“It’s a sad day,” Tomsula said during an emotional news conference. “This is a day that doesn’t have anything to do about football.”
Smith was arrested Thursday night — on a day off from training camp for players — the fifth legal run-in since the team drafted him in 2011. Tomsula spoke to a couple of players, then the entire team in Friday afternoon.
“Guys care about him, we care about that guy, deeply,” he said.
Smith had said when camp began he was healthy and in great shape, “ready to go.” While he is free to sign with any team, not needing to go through waivers, he likely would first face another lengthy NFL suspension.
Police said Friday that at 8:46 p.m., Smith collided with a parked vehicle while parking his car, then caused further damage to the parked vehicle with his car door. The scene was only a couple of miles from team headquarters, at or on the street of Smith’s luxury apartment complex.
Authorities said Smith left without reporting the collision or providing any identifying information. He later returned to and was contacted by officers. Smith displayed “objective symptoms of being under the influence of an alcoholic beverage” and officers conducted a field sobriety test, police said.
“Although he won’t be playing football for the San Francisco 49ers, he will be supported and helped, and he will not have to walk this path alone,” Tomsula said. “That comes from our ownership down. ... It has nothing to do with football.”
Smith denied he was driving under the influence during a brief interview with a local television station before Tomsula’s news conference.
“Justice will be served, the truth will come out,” Smith told KTVU Fox 2 as he walked out of jail. “There’s no DUI. ... I want everybody to understand the situation that happened could have been handled differently.”
Tomsula declined to speak about specifics of Smith’s arrest, but offered, “We’re dealing with human beings, living breathing human beings.”
“There are things that need to be addressed with 100 percent of what he has,” the coach said.
San Francisco has had 12 arrests or charges filed involving seven players since January 2012, prompting owner Jed York to promise the team would “win with class.” The Niners released defensive tackle Ray McDonald late last season for his off-field problems.
“If one person out there reads this and you’re struggling, get help,” an emotional Tomsula said emphatically. “Go get it. You’re worth it. There’s value in every human being. Get the help. You don’t have to walk alone. Find it, it’s there.”
Smith was entering a contract year after he missed the first nine games of 2014 serving an NFL suspension for violations of the league’s substance-abuse and personal-conduct policies.
In spring 2014, the 49ers exercised their 2015 option for Smith. In March, Smith restructured his contract into a more incentive-laden, team-friendly deal that gave the 49ers room if he were to get in legal trouble again.
The 25-year-old Smith missed time during the 2013 season to undergo treatment at an inpatient facility following his DUI arrest on Sept. 20 that year. Later in the year, he pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, stemming from a June 2012 party at his home.
Smith was arrested on April 13, 2014, at Los Angeles International Airport. Police said Smith was randomly selected for a secondary screening and became uncooperative with the process, telling a TSA agent that he had a bomb. No charges were filed.
He emerged as one of the NFL’s top defenders in 2012 with a franchise-record 19 1/2 sacks during the team’s run to the Super Bowl. Smith finished with 8 1/2 sacks and 34 tackles in 11 games in 2013. In his shortened 2014 season, he had two sacks.
Tomsula hopes Smith will play football again one day.
“He has been turning his life around. He is in the process of turning his life around. People stumble,” Tomsula said. “In terms of him playing football again, I sure hope so. I think he can. I want him to.”