Aldon Smith has his day in court today at 2:30 p.m. The hearing was described to me by the district attorney's office as a "status conference," a perfunctory meeting between the two sides as they exchange information and sort out both the DUI and gun possession charges levied against the 49ers linebacker
However, any time the two sides get together, there's the possibility of a plea agreement. That's why the 49ers are intently watching what happens today. A plea deal would bring some clarity to Smith's situation. As far as NFL discipline, the league will wait to dispense it until the case has been resolved in court. A plea will give the NFL a better idea of how to discipline Smith, which will give the 49ers a better idea how to proceed with him as far the fifth-year option on his contract.
The deadline for triggering that option is on Saturday. The 49ers haven't decided whether to use it but are leaning against it. As I wrote earlier this month, the team is leery of sending mixed signals to Smith. Exercising the option means Smith would earn, if he's still on the team in March, $9.754 million in 2015. The message the 49ers want to send to the linebacker is that he needs help, not that he will be rewarded with nearly $10 million.
There's also a possibility the 49ers could retain him in 2015 for far less money. If the NFL decides to suspend Smith for the full season, his 2014 salary would toll. That is, the $2.336 million he is set to earn this year would roll over to next year. In that scenario, however, there would be no fifth-year option for the 2016 season.
The 49ers also could put Smith on the non-football injury list for 2014. In that scenario, he'd earn the $2.336 million for 2014 but they'd also have him for the 2015 season at that rate. In other words, there are a number of scenarios the 49ers are sorting through, another reason why the team has not yet decided on the fifth-year option.
The bottom line is that the 49ers want to retain Smith for the long term but that they feel he needs help now. They are willing to see him miss a chunk, perhaps all, of this year's season, if it means he gets on top of his issues and can play for them, say, for the next decade.
One additional item: The Los Angeles City Attorney's office has yet to decide whether to file misdemeanor charges against Smith for the alleged bomb threat he made at LAX this month. It may take a week or two for that decision to be made. The airport incident is unlikely to be a factor in today's hearing.
Former agent Joel Corry wrote about this topic recently in the National Football Post. It includes a couple of precedents as far as league discipline, Tank Johnson and Adam "Pac Man" Jones, and is worth a read.
-- Matt Barrows