Rice's suspension could bode well for Smith

Aldon Smith (Getty Images)

49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith said he's feeling better both mentally and physically than at any point in his career as the team opened training camp Thursday. And with Ray Rice receiving just a two-game suspension for his arrest for domestic violence, the league could be lenient with Smith after last week's sentencing for his DUI and weapons charges.

Prior to his sentencing last week, the expectation was Aldon Smith would be facing a suspension from the NFL for violating the league's conduct policy following his DUI and weapons charges. But after news broke Thursday morning of Ray Rice's two-game suspension, things look suddenly optimistic for the 49ers prized pass rusher.

Smith said Thursday he will be meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell “as soon as possible” regarding any potential discipline coming from the league to start the regular season. That meeting's date is still to be determined.

”(Smith) is going through a process which is accountability for mistakes made,” said head coach Jim Harbaugh. “And also he’s been given the opportunity to do what he says he’s going to do. So far he’s doing that.”

A two-game ban for Rice looks like a slap on the wrist, considering the allegations of Rice striking his fiancee Janay Palmer (who he has since married) in an elevator. Video later surfaced of Rice dragging an apparently unconscious Palmer out of the elevator. Rice plead not guilty to a third-degree charge of aggravated assault back in May.

Smith was sentenced last week to 11 days of work crew after his three felony gun charges were reduced to misdemeanors. His sentence was originally 12 days, but he was given a one-day credit after having spent time in jail following his arrest for the DUI.

So what does Rice’s suspension mean for Smith?

Goodell still needs to make that determination. But he has gone on the record saying last season’s five-week leave of absence will factor into any suspension for Smith going forward. But the precedent set by Rice’s suspension might mean Smith could face a minimal suspension, if he’s suspended at all. There's a chance he could escape with just a fine, which he and the 49ers would have no problem with.

”I don’t know. I’ve never been in this situation so I’m not going to speculate,” Smith said.

With his legal future in limbo leading up to last week, Smith said he changed up his regular workout routine and is coming to training camp in the best shape he’s ever been in since coming into the league. That’s due, in part, to a shift in lifestyle from his formative years that includes complete sobriety since reporting to a rehabilitation facility last fall.

”You go through things in life…you learn a lot,” said Smith. “So I’ve learn a lot from my mistakes and just growing from them.”

The 49ers have bent over backwards in their support of Smith - who has 42 sacks in 43 career games since coming into the league in 2011. They even picked up his fifth-year option just weeks after his airport incident when he allegedly made a bomb threat at a security checkpoint, although no charges were officially filed.

It was leap of faith by the organization, who could have held on to their leverage by forcing him to play out his contract year without the security of a deal for 2015 - and then franchised him for that year, signed him to a long-term contract or let him try the free agent market. Instead, they guaranteed Smith a $9.754 million deal without knowing his legal future or what the league’s punitive stance would be.

Fast forward to training camp, and suddenly it appears the 49ers have made the right decision, especially if Smith can get back to his 2012 form when he terrorized quarterbacks by registering 19.5 sacks.

”I’m in the best shape I’ve been in coming into a camp,” Smith said. “My mind’s probably in the best spot it’s been in. I’m feeling great.”

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