The San Francisco 49ers’ front office staff received much criticism for their handling of Aldon Smith the weekend after he was arrested for a DUI—though it can be argued that they handled the situation quite well. With Smith’s quick return to the active roster, Jim Harbaugh and Jed York are setting themselves up for even more criticism, though probably more muted. So why, exactly, is Aldon back so fast?
First and foremost, the NFL, in essence, requires him to be back on the active roster. The 49ers had placed him on the Non-Football-Injury list, and since he no longer is in rehab, he can no longer be on that inactive list. The 49ers could release him, make him inactive permanently this year—which would be inviting and NFLPA suit—or bring him back to the active roster. The NFL was kind enough to grant the 49ers a roster exemption for a week, since it is the bye week, and thus no player will need to be released until Wednesday. It is also important to remember that the “active roster” and the “active gameday roster” are two separate lists, of 53 and 49 players respectively. There is no guarantee that Smith will be starting or playing next game—though I’d look for him to be playing—especially with how well 3rd round pick Corey Lemonier has been playing in Aldon’s place.
Lastly, what should Smith be doing instead of his job? Would it be better for him to have a bunch of free time on his hands? I doubt it. The 49ers are looking out for their man, and they are excited to be helping him as he continues to mature and grow into the strong man—physically, mentally, and emotionally—that they hope he becomes.