General manager John Lynch on Wednesday acknowledged the 49ers must have a contingency plan in place should inside linebacker Reuben Foster, who was arrested twice in two months, be forced to sit out games – or worse – this season.
“That would be something that we have to take into account, whether it be in free agency or not, whether it be re-signing our own guys or whether it be in the draft,” Lynch said during a lunch with reporters. “That’s certainly something we’re aware of and are taking into account.”
It was the first time Lynch or anyone with the 49ers spoke extensively about Foster since he was arrested on Feb. 11 and charged with domestic violence, making threats and having an illegal weapon. That followed a January arrest in Alabama for marijuana possession.
Lynch said he and the 49ers want to be as candid as possible with the public and admitted, “We’ve been a little quiet” with Foster’s situation. “And that’s for a reason,” he said. “There’s places I can’t and won’t go because we’re dealing with an ongoing legal matter.”
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When another 49ers starter, cornerback Tramaine Brock, was arrested for domestic abuse last year, the team cut him the next day. The 49ers seem willing to let the legal process play out in Foster’s case.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office is investigating the incident and has until next month to consider the formal charges. Foster was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in Tuscaloosa, Ala. A hearing originally scheduled for Wednesday was pushed back to next month, and his attorney said they have not yet decided what to plea in the case.
Lynch was asked about the discrepancy between Brock’s and Foster’s cases.
“Listen, I know there’s a lot of conjecture as to, ‘Well, of course Brock wasn’t the player that Reuben is.’ “ Lynch said. “I would counter that to say that he was a starting cornerback for us. And we didn’t take that lightly.”
“I think anybody who watched us play — I don’t want to say it was a weakness — but an area of concern for us was the cornerback position. And that had a large part to do with it. It wasn’t something we took lightly. It was the decision that we felt was best for everyone involved and made it accordingly. And as I mentioned, each situation is different and we’ll leave it at that.”
Foster was arrested in Los Gatos, a few miles south of the 49ers’ training facility, after his longtime girlfriend called police and said he dragged her out of the house. The NFL is investigating the situation, which means that the linebacker, a former first-round pick whom the 49ers feel can be a star on defense, is subject to both the league’s personal conduct policy and its substance abuse policy. Both could mean a multi-game suspension this season.
In addition to his marijuana-related arrest, Foster failed a drug test at last year’s scouting combine due to a diluted sample. He also was sent home early from the combine after an altercation with a hospital worker.
“You remember this time last year, there was a lot of discussion about Reuben,” Lynch said. “One thing we knew was we were going to have to put great structure around him. I think one lesson I’ve learned is it’s probably a lot easier to do that in a college atmosphere than it is in the NFL. These guys have to be men.”
In Dallas, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant agreed to a series of guidelines from the team following some ugly incidents early in his career. They include stipulations such as no alcohol, strict curfews, a round-the-clock security team, team drivers and other rules.
It didn’t sound as if the 49ers had anything that drastic in mind for Foster, and Lynch noted that the team already had measures in place for troubled, young players.
“We have talked with Reuben and the context in a broad sense of what we discussed with Reuben is just our expectations for him and our expectations for all our players,” Lynch said. “We have a high standard. We made that very clear with him. We remain in communication.”
The 49ers expect to have one inside linebacker, Malcolm Smith, back from a pectoral injury this offseason and have two young linebackers, Elijah Lee and Mark Nzeocha, under contract for next season. Another, Brock Coyle, is a pending free agent the team could bring back.
But given Foster’s tenuous situation, linebacker is a position the 49ers must consider in coming months.
“You have to take those things into account in every situation,” Lynch said. “Everything in this league is fluid, so you have to be able to move quickly and kind of adjust philosophies.”