Oakland Raiders Playing With Fire By Signing Aldon Smith


No doubt, many Oakland Raiders fans out there rejoiced at the signing of Aldon Smith. After all, the Raiders are still needy when it comes to serious pass rushing talent – and with Smith, they get one of the most ferocious quarterback eaters out there. But while it might seem like a solid move on the surface, it’s a move that could also blow up in their faces.

There is no question that Smith is one hell of a football player. His talent is off the charts and just uttering his name on a football field is enough to send a cold shiver of fear down the spine of any quarterback. Racking up 44 sacks in just 50 games and being an absolute beast who is nearly impossible to contain will earn you that sort of reputation.

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But – and there is a big but here – signing Smith comes with a huge risk and big possible downside as well.

Smith of course, has a very long and very well documented history of poor decision making that has led to many and varied legal troubles – he missed nine games last season while serving out a suspension because of his off the field issues. And the NFL is notorious for coming down even harder on those guys who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

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Such is the case with Smith. The day Smith signed with the Raiders, he was charged with three misdemeanor charges stemming from his arrest this past August – DUI with a prior, hit and run with property damage, and vandalism.

While it’s likely that Smith will escape from having to do any time and put the legal matter to rest by paying fees and/or serving community service, there is absolutely no guarantee that he will escape the wrath of Commissioner Roger Goodell.

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  • For his part, Goodell seems to really be warming up to his role as “The Enforcer” and handing out suspensions like Halloween candy – at last count, 39 players were starting the season on the suspended list.

    There are some though, who believe that Goodell – fresh off getting his backside handed to him in federal court by Tom Brady and his legal team – will be hesitant to bring the hammer down on anybody, including Smith.

    The thinking is that Goodell, having spent millions on the investigation that led to an ultimately fruitless attempt to suspend the Patriots’ quarterback, will have a harder time justifying fighting another legal battle should Smith – or any other suspended player – file suit.

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    The thinking goes on to say that Smith may very well escape suspension this season while the league lets the legal side of the issue play itself out, which will allow them to kick the can down the road, giving them to lick their wounds after the Brady debacle, as well as having Greg Hardy‘s suspension scaled way back by a neutral arbiter – the arbiter who took a shot at Goodell while doing so.

    Yeah, it wasn’t a great summer for Goodell and the league.

    Nov 25, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (99) sacks Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) during the second half at FedEx Field. The 49ers won 27-6. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    But that thinking is far from a guarantee. The more likely scenario is that Smith’s legal case will be concluded, Goodell will announce a suspension, Smith will appeal, and he will wind up missing games later in the season – potentially when they matter the most.

    From a strictly football perspective, signing Smith makes a lot of sense. The Raiders need to put even more teeth into their pass rush – a pass rush that produced an underwhelming total of 22 sacks last season. Adding Smith to a rush that includes the likes of Khalil Mack, Justin Tuck, and even rising rookie Mario Edwards Jr. makes a lot of sense and almost automatically takes the defensive front to another level.

    It also shows that HC Jack Del Rio and DC Ken Norton Jr. are perhaps a little more worried about the play of their secondary than they’re letting on. They absolutely need to create havoc up front and be in the quarterback’s face from the snap to give Oakland’s young corners – corners who haven’t exactly shined in the preaseason – some cover and protection.

    The trouble that comes into play though, is that if they build their pass rush around having a dynamic duo like Mack and Smith harassing the opposing quarterbacks, if a suspension for Smith comes down later in the season – which is a very strong possibility – it could have an incredibly adverse impact on the defense.

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  • If the Raiders are battling for a playoff spot – already unthinkable in the minds of many – and Smith is as big a part of the defense as they are counting on him to be, that would just be kicking the legs out from under the team – and if they’re in contention, possibly crippling them on their run to a postseason berth.

    And none of the above listed concerns even touches on the character issue concerns that plague Smith. Character issues were enough for the Raiders to take a pass on Hardy when he was available, with owner Mark Davis making a very strong statement to that effect when the rumors of Oakland’s interest continued to persist.

    Davis, Del Rio, and GM Reggie McKenzie have all gone on record in the past about the importance of character and avoiding players with a history of violence and bad decision making. They said they wanted high character guys who could be trusted to make good decisions and stay out of trouble off the field. It was a position applauded by many.

    Which makes the Smith signing all the more troublesome. He has a very well documented history of poor decision making – he’s been arrested five separate times since 2012 on charges ranging from DUI to illegally owning automatic weapons to his latest run in with a parked vehicle and police.

    His maturity has been called into question on numerous occasions, and even the San Francisco 49ers – a team desperate for pass rushers in the wake of a horrendous offseason for the team – felt compelled to cut him loose after his latest arrest.

    As talented as Smith is – and he really is talented – he is a ticking time bomb of stupid decisions just waiting to explode. His poor judgment and even worse decision making skills have the potential to really undermine Oakland’s defense – and the team as a whole.

    Their seeming reversal on character issues aside, Del Rio and McKenzie are doing what they can to better this Oakland team and give them a real fighting chance this season. That should be commended by Raiders fans everywhere. But while the potential reward of adding Aldon Smith to the defense is off the charts, so too is the risk of adding him.

    Smith has the potential to elevate this defense to another level in 2015. From a purely football perspective, it was a great move. Unfortunately, when it comes to Aldon Smith, you can’t look at it from a purely football perspective. He just brings far too much baggage to the table.

    At some point, he will be suspended. And given his history, it has the potential to be a very significant suspension. If this team is in contention, and he becomes the important piece of the defense it is expected he’ll be, taking him off the field could have a lasting, detrimental effect that hobbles this team.

    It’s an experiment that has the potential to be an incredibly significant move that reaps huge rewards. It also has the potential to blow up in their faces in a very big way.

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