The 49ers likely will have to decide whether to retain troubled linebacker Aldon Smith for a fifth season without a resolution in the DUI and gun-possession charges he is facing.
The district attorney’s office and Smith’s defense team did not reach a plea deal – something the 49ers thought was a possibility, albeit an unlikely one – at a hearing in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Tuesday. A new hearing date is scheduled for May 12.
Smith, 24, is facing DUI charges related to the September incident in which he was found at the wheel of a vehicle that came to a stop in a residential front yard. He also faces three felony counts of illegal possession of assault weapons that were found at his home in the aftermath of a raucous 2012 party that ended with Smith being stabbed in the abdomen.
It’s possible the case could be resolved before Smith’s next court date. But that probably won’t occur before Saturday, the deadline for triggering the fifth-year option on Smith’s contract.
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Asked last week whether the 49ers had enough information about the cases to make a decision, general manager Trent Baalke said, “I don’t know if we’re ever going to have enough information. You never have enough, do you?”
Smith, who holds the franchise’s single-season sack record and is one of the most talented pass rushers in the league, is entering the final year of his 2011 rookie contract that will pay him $2.3 million this season. The fifth-year option, which already has been triggered for a number of players in Smith’s talent-laden 2011 draft class, would pay him $9.8 million in 2015.
The 49ers have not decided whether to exercise that option, which would become guaranteed if he’s still on the club next March, but they are leaning against it.
The 49ers want to send a signal to Smith that he must change his behavior, a message that could be undermined by giving him nearly $10 million next season. They also are looking into other options that would allow them to keep Smith for a lesser amount.
If the NFL decides to suspend Smith for a full season, for example, the $2.336 million he is set to make this year would roll over to next year. The 49ers also could put Smith on the non-football injury list for 2014. In that scenario, he’d earn the $2.3 million for 2014, but they’d also have him for the 2015 season at that rate. That option, however, could prompt resistance from the players’ union.
The league is unlikely to discipline Smith until his court case is resolved.
Complicating the issue is Smith’s run-in at Los Angeles International Airport on April 13 in which he allegedly told security screeners he had a bomb. The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office is considering whether to file misdemeanor charges against Smith.
A spokesman this week said the City Attorney’s Office has asked for more information from airport police and that it could be a week or two before a decision on charges is made.
Baalke made it clear last week the team will not cut ties with Smith this season. The linebacker has been at the team’s facility for the offseason conditioning program that began last week.
“We’re a family,” Baalke said. “You don’t just open a door and toss people out of it.”