The San Francisco 49ers have released star defensive end Aldon Smith after he was arrested Thursday night on charges of driving under the influence, hit-and-run and vandalism. The team confirmed the cut in a press conference held just before 3 p.m. ET, with Coach Jim Tomsula noting that just because Smith no longer will play football with the 49ers doesn’t mean their personal relationship needs to end.
“Although Aldon won’t be playing football here, we will be supporting him,” Tomsula said. “He will not be alone.”
Tomsula said multiple times that the team’s decision to release the Pro Bowler was “not about football,” but doing what’s best for Smith, who he said until now, seemed to be on the right track after having several legal run-ins in the past, including two other DUI charges.
“Aldon Smith has been working really hard to correct things that need correcting and he has been working really hard to do the right thing,” Tomsula said, calling what happened on Thursday a “pitfall.”
“There are things that need to be addressed with 100 percent of everything he has. From a team perspective, that’s not football,” Tomsula added. “These are completely different and they don’t mix.”
Smith was arrested by Santa Clara police on Thursday night after causing damage to a parked car, according to an SCPD press release. Smith allegedly first damaged the car while parking his own vehicle, before causing additional damage with his door while exiting the car.
“Smith then left the area not reporting the collision or leaving his identifying information at the scene,” the press release continues. “He later returned to the parking area where he was contacted by officers. Smith displayed objective symptoms of being under the influence of an alcoholic beverage. Officers administered a field sobriety test to Smith.”
Officers later booked Smith into the Santa Clara County Jail and set his bail set at $26,000. As of 7:30 a.m. PT on Friday, Smith was still in jail, according to Bay Area’s ABC 7 reporter Matt Keller. Smith was released later on Friday.
Upon leaving jail, however, Smith denied the DUI charge.
“Justice will be served. The truth will come out. There’s no DUI,” he told ABC 7’s Keller. “I’m sorry to anybody I let down.”
Tomsula would not say what details he or other team executives discussed with Smith on Friday while making the decision to release him. He also avoided direct questions about whether Smith maintained his denial of the DUI charge.
“No. 1, with the legal system and all that, I have no comment, obviously,” he said at the Friday press conference.
This is not the first time the 25-year-old has gotten in trouble with the law. In April 2014, he was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for making a false bomb threat. In October 2013, the player was charged with three felonies related to the illegal possession of an assault weapon. And in both September 2013 and January 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of DUI.
Several of the run-ins caused Smith to miss games, including in 2014, when Smith served a nine-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse and personal conduct policies, and in 2013, when Smith missed five games to enter a substance abuse treatment program.
It’s unclear whether another stint in rehab is in Smith’s immediate future or whether he’ll try to find a position on another team. With the 49ers’ decision to release him, he is now technically a free agent, although if he does sign with another team, he may still be subject to an NFL-imposed punishment apart from whatever he may have to deal with legally.
In the meantime, the 49ers are now left with just two defensive starters from their Super Bowl lineup two years ago, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks.
Tomsula, who canceled team practice on Friday in light of the news, is trying to keep optimistic, however.
“We’re gonna keep playing football,” he said. “We feel really good about all the talent in that room.”
This post has been updated multiple times.