San Francisco 49ers: Release of Foster leaves one big question – why now?

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Russell Wilson
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Russell Wilson /

The San Francisco 49ers parted ways with linebacker Reuben Foster for domestic violence-related charges – the question is, why now?

Perhaps, for San Francisco 49ers General Manager John Lynch and HC Kyle Shanahan, it was a case of deja vu all over again. Maybe, it was that they felt he just wasn’t going to get it – ever. And maybe they just didn’t want to travel down this already well-worn path the franchise has traveled before with another incredibly talented, but troubled, player.

Whatever the reason, after his third arrest in less than a year, Lynch and Shanahan dropped the hammer on linebacker Reuben Foster lightning fast.

It’s a blow to a team that viewed the 2017 first-round draft pick as a cornerstone piece of this defense for years to come. Foster, like former 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, is incredibly talented – dominant even – but just couldn’t manage to keep his head on straight, and stay out of trouble.

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The one lingering question though – one that neither Lynch, nor Shanahan, has answered just yet – is, why they moved so fast to cut Foster?

When Foster was arrested back in January on marijuana charges – and then again in February on domestic violence and weapons charges – Shanahan was content to let the process play itself out, saying he wanted to get all of the facts of the case before any decision was made regarding Foster’s future with the club.

He was very clear however, that domestic abusers would not have any place within the organization.

Luckily for Foster – and for Lynch – back in February, the woman who’d originally accused Foster of beating her – his on again/off again girlfriend, Elissa Ennis – recanted her original statement to police. At the time, she said was making a money grab and extorting Foster by accusing him of domestic violence.

When she recanted her statement back in April, Ennis said, “I didn’t want it to get this far in the news. It was about money.”

So, even though he did ultimately cop a plea to help make the marijuana and weapons charges go away – or at least, have his legal punishment severely reduced – he avoided the bigger issue, which would have been the domestic violence charges. As a result of the other cases against him, Foster was suspended for the first two games of the season.

Since then, he’s kept his nose clean. Until now. In the wake of Foster’s arrest, Tampa police issued a statement that, in part, read…

"“… they (Foster and Ennis), were involved in a verbal altercation Saturday during which Foster slapped her phone out of her hand, pushed her in the chest area, and slapped her with an open hand on the left side of her face. Officers observed a one-inch scratch on the victim’s left collarbone.”"

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If you remember though, after the last domestic violence accusation, Ennis was also left with visible cuts and bruises she said she sustained in a fight with a motorist the day before and was simply using them as “evidence” to make her case for extorting money from Foster.

And with this latest transgression, comes his walking papers only hours after he was booked into jail in Florida after a verbal altercation with Ennis allegedly turned physical. In speaking about the situation on the record, among other things, Lynch said the following…

"“The really sad thing is he had shown some, of late in particular, he was really taking some very positive steps,” Lynch said Sunday. And maturing in a really nice fashion. Unfortunately, in life there’s consequences for your actions. And when you show bad judgment, particularly for something that’s been communicated very clearly what the expectations are, there are consequences.One of our tenets is protect the team. He didn’t protect the team. And like I said, nobody is bigger than the team. We feel it’s in the best interest of our organization to move on at this point, and that’s a very tough decision. I want to be clear this is an organizational decision. Kyle and I talked last night. We brought it to ownership. We were all lockstep in the decision. It was not easy on anybody.”"

On the one hand, Lynch, Shanahan, and the entire 49ers organization should be commended and applauded for drawing a very firm line in the sand – nobody, not even a top talent like Foster, is above the rules or above the law.

Domestic violence is one of this country’s biggest plagues and not nearly enough is being done to hold those who put hands on their partner accountable for their actions. All too often, we see the victims put on trial and dragged through the mud while the accused get off scot free.

So, from that standpoint, giant kudos to the entire 49ers organization for taking a stand that will be considered bold – but really shouldn’t be. It should be simply considered the right thing to do.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

On the other side of that coin though, when the last allegations came out, Lynch and Shanahan were adamant about letting the process play out and not rushing to judgement before all of the facts came out. And as it turned out, they were right to do so – Ennis recanted her story.

Which makes you wonder why they were so quick to pull the trigger this time, given Ennis’ history. Isn’t it possible, since she lied last time, that she’s lying again? Barring any Ray Rice-esque video evidence surfacing of the altercation, it’s once again her word versus his, and she’s already known to make up stories to get what she wants.

Isn’t it possible she’s lying again and making another play for money?

It’s a tough line to tread – doing the right thing by your team versus doing the right thing, period. Foster’s absence is going to leave a pretty gaping hole in the middle of the San Francisco defense – as if they didn’t already have enough holes that needed to be filled.

But, you can’t do anything except respect Lynch, Shanahan, and the entire San Francisco organization for stepping up and proving that yes, there is a red line that cannot be crossed – and that it will not be tolerated if it is crossed, whether you’re a first-round draft pick and top talent, or a guy barely hanging onto the fringes of the roster.

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You’d have to believe that Foster is going to find employment somewhere. The NFL being what it is, talent always finds a landing spot – unless there is conclusive Ray Rice-esque video, obviously. But, at least for a day, it’s good to see an organization do more than just pay lip service to the notion that domestic violence actually is one of those bright red lines that cannot be crossed.

At least for a day, it’s good to see an organization hold fast to the belief that playing in the NFL is not a right, but a privilege, and there comes a point when you run out of chances to get your head on straight.