San Francisco 49ers

Tea leaves: When does Aldon Smith return, what happens then?

The NFL will consider whether Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension will be reduced by one game.
The NFL will consider whether Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension will be reduced by one game. AP

The NFL can reduce Aldon Smith's suspension by one or two games. Given that it's now Wednesday and that both the 49ers and Rams are well into their preparation for their upcoming contest, it's safe to say that the reduction won't be by two games.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher, in fact, said it would be unfair to give Smith the green light to play now.

“I think the league has a responsibility to inform us early enough in the week so we have a chance to game plan if that’s the case,” Fisher said during a conference call. “I would expect not to hear he would not be available for the game on Friday.”

But a one-game reduction remains on the table and – if you'll allow me a little tea-leaf reading – appears to be the way this situation is heading. After all, the negotiation between the league and the NFL Players Association when the discipline was being decided was that Smith would sit out nine games with the possibility that the length could be reduced for good behavior.

By all accounts, Smith has made good on his end of the deal. He's completed his work-program sentence with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department. And, at least according to general manager Trent Baalke, he's used his time well.

“He’s done a lot of community service,” Baalke said on weekly radio hit on 95.7 FM this week. “And the reports back from all the people that have worked with him during the community service couldn’t be any better. He’s done an excellent job working at the children’s hospital, working with youth groups in several different communities in the Bay Area, and has done an outstanding job. Very pleased with where he’s at.”

Given the current climate surrounding, and scrutiny of, league discipline, the NFL's decision makers may not have thought it wise to cut Smith's punishment – for DUI and for possessing weapons that are illegal in California – by two games. But if the commissioner was dangling a reduced suspension as incentive for Smith to start repairing his image, and if Smith has done just that, it seems like the NFL would have to make good on its end of the bargain as well.

If the suspension is reduced by a game, then Smith would be available for the Nov. 9 game in New Orleans. What then?

The outside linebacker missed five games last year after entering an alcohol rehabilitation facility, which followed his DUI. He played just 12 snaps in his first game back. Smith has been allowed to work out at the team facility during his current suspension and he likely is in better shape – and in a better place – than he was a year ago.

Still, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who also is Smith's position coach, will monitor Smith and gauge his role based on those observations. A situation in which Dan Skuta plays base downs and Smith comes in on passing situations might be a smart way to work the team's top pass rusher back into form.

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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