In the first public appearance by any 49ers official since Aldon Smith's airport arrest on April 13, general manager Trent Baalke today said he and the organization are disappointed by the pattern of bad behavior by the linebacker but not discouraged by it.
Baalke made it clear the team would stand by Smith, who holds the franchise record for sacks in a season but who also has been arrested three times since 2012. "We're a family," he said. "You don't just open a door and toss people out of it."
Smith has been working out at the team facility since the start of the offseason program April 21.
Baalke, however, was vague about how the team would handle the fast-approaching May 3 deadline for picking up a fifth-year option on Smith's contract that would pay Smith nearly $10 million in 2015. He said that's still being discussed internally. According to a league source, the 49ers are leaning against picking up that option.
Smith, 24, has a court date next week in relation to a September DUI arrest as well as gun charges stemming from a party at Smith's home that grew out of control in June 2012. In addition, the Los Angeles City Attorney's office is considering whether to file misdemeanor charges against Smith for allegedly saying he had a bomb as he went through Los Angeles International Airport's security line earlier this month.
During a nearly hour-long session with reporters, Baalke walked a line between saying he was disappointed with Smith's actions and those of several other 49ers in recent years and defending his players.
Baalke said the team isn't doing anything differently this year in terms of determining the character of draft prospects. "We've always looked into character," he said. At one point, he said the 49ers have had "very few off-the-field incidents over the last three, four years."
"Are we disappointed that we've had a string (of incidents)? Absolutely. Absolutely we are" Baalke said. "But at the same time, very proud of the group of men that are in that locker room and what they stand for on the field and off the field. And have a lot of trust in them. A lot of trust. As much trust as I have in them, almost as (much as) the trust I have in my own family, my own children."
Asked about Smith and where he is in his mind, Baalke said, "Growing. Starting to understand, starting to realize the importance of his own accountability." Challenged that Smith shouldn't be "starting to understand" after so many police-blotter incidents, Baalke said, "I think Aldon has made very good strides in a lot of aspects. He continues to work at it every day, just like I do, just like anybody else. You try to become a better person every day. ... Sometimes you hit a speed bump. And you've got to learn. Repeat offenders, when it becomes repetitive, it certainly becomes a concern. But once again, you continue to work."
There's a good chance that Smith will be disciplined by the NFL and could miss games in the upcoming season. Baalke said the team would prepare for the worst when it came to the upcoming draft but that he was confident in backups Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier should Smith miss time. He noted that Smith sat out five games last year while he was in an alcohol-rehabilitation center and that the 49ers won all of those contests.
"'Next man up' isn't just a hollow term," he said.
-- Matt Barrows