Editor’s note: This timeline, that was originally published on March 6, 2018, has been updated with Wednesday’s news that Aldon Smith and the Dallas Cowboys have agreed to a one-year deal.
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Perhaps the only things bigger than Aldon Smith’s tantalizing gifts on a football field were the demons that haunted him off of it.
A somewhat surprising early pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 NFL draft given his relative youth (he was a 21-year-old redshirt sophomore) and questions about his quirky personality (how would he fit in an NFL locker room), Smith burst on the scene as a sack machine with a record 33.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons.
Smith was the NFC’s counterpart to the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller, who went second overall in that same draft, and many wondered if the Niners actually got the better player. Nearly nine years and more run-ins with the law later, the outside linebacker’s NFL career could return should the league choose to reinstate Smith.
Here is a timeline of Smith’s rise and fall in the NFL.
April 28, 2011: Smith is drafted out of Missouri by the 49ers at No. 7 overall, five picks after Miller and four picks ahead of J.J. Watt.
Oct. 2, 2011: Smith sacks Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick for a 10-yard loss in the second quarter of an eventual 24-23 Niners win for Smith’s first career sack.
2011 season: Used as a situational pass-rusher, Smith did not start a game as a rookie and still finished with 14 sacks in 16 games, which marked 2.5 more sacks than Miller had in Denver. He is named to the NFL’s all-rookie team.
Jan. 27, 2012: Five days after the 49ers lose the NFC title game at home to the New York Giants in overtime, Smith is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Miami Beach, Florida.
2012 season: Smith started all 16 games and, buoyed by the inside push of Justin Smith, finished with 19.5 sacks, one fewer than league leader and NFL Defensive Player of the Year Watt and one more than Miller. Smith, who had 5.5 sacks against the Chicago Bears in Week 11, is named first-team All-Pro and the Niners advance to Super Bowl XLVII, where they fall to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31.
Pre-2013 season: Smith is rated the No. 7 player in the league in the NFL Network’s Top 100 players rankings, two spots ahead of Miller.
Sept. 20, 2013: Smith is arrested on suspicion of DUI after crashing his truck into a tree in a residential neighborhood in San Jose, California. He plays two days later in a 27-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts and has a sack. Smith then checks into rehab and misses the Niners’ next five games before returning Nov. 10.
Oct. 29, 2013: Before returning to the Niners, Smith turns himself in on three felony counts of possessing illegal assault weapons after a 2012 party at his house in which investigators said several shots were fired, two partygoers were injured and Smith was stabbed.
Post-2013 season: Smith has 42 sacks in 43 career games.
April 13, 2014: Smith is arrested on suspicion of making false bomb threats at Los Angeles International Airport, though charges were not filed.
July 2014: Smith is sentenced to 11 days of work release for the 2013 DUI arrest.
Aug. 30, 2014: Smith is given a nine-game suspension by the NFL for violations of the league’s personal-conduct policy and substance-abuse policy.
Nov. 16, 2014: Smith makes his season debut and finishes with two sacks in seven games, six starts, for a 49ers team that finishes 8-8 and in third place in the NFC West in Jim Harbaugh’s final season as coach.
Aug. 6, 2015: Smith is arrested on hit-and-run, DUI and vandalism charges on the 49ers’ first off day of training camp.
Aug. 7, 2015: One day later, Smith is released by the Niners following that third arrest involving DUI. “Sad day,” then-49ers first-year coach Jim Tomsula said at the time. “This is a day that doesn’t have anything to do about football. … Although he won’t be playing football for the San Francisco 49ers, he will be supported and helped, and he will not have to walk this path alone. That comes from our ownership down. … We’re not worried about football. This has nothing to do with football.”
Sept. 11, 2015: Smith is signed by the Raiders, despite the likelihood of another league-imposed suspension coming. He appears in nine games, seven starts, with Oakland and has 3.5 sacks in his last six games.
Nov. 15, 2015: Smith sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for a 6-yard loss in the fourth quarter of a 30-14 loss in Oakland, sack No. 47.5 and, perhaps, the final one of his NFL career.
Nov. 17, 2015: Two days later, Smith is suspended by the NFL for a year for violating the NFL policy and program for substances of abuse, stemming from the August incident.
April 4, 2016: Despite being suspended, Smith is signed by the Raiders to a two-year contract that will not pay him until he is reinstated by the league.
Nov. 17, 2016: Smith’s “year” suspension remains in effect and is now considered an “indefinite” punishment.
Feb. 6, 2017: Smith takes to social media to pronounce, “I’m back. And there’s nobody who can stop me,” a day after the NFL Network reported he would be reinstated in March 2017.
Weekend of Feb. 11, 2017: Smith is mentioned in a report taken by the San Francisco Police Department, and TMZ Sports says it was a domestic-related investigation, though no arrests were made.
March 10, 2017: Smith is detained by SFPD as he was a passenger in a car that ran into a police cruiser. Police said a woman was driving, a passenger was “cooperative” at the scene and released at the time, and a second passenger, an adult man, was “detained” for public intoxication and “should be released when he is sober.” Smith emerged from the police station that afternoon.
March 28, 2017: Then-Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, a critic of the terms of the suspension that forbid contact with suspended players, goes all-in at the NFL owners meetings in Arizona. “You know, my feel is that I could help him,” Del Rio said. “But the experts know; the experts don’t allow [contact] … I just have to follow the rules. But it does get frustrating to not be able to help a young man, help provide support, provide structure. But somebody else has to make those decisions. That’s just out of my hands.”
Feb. 21, 2018: Smith asks a judge to reduce his child-support payments due to his not having an NFL salary, per TMZ Sports.
Feb. 24, 2018: Smith gets engaged in a San Francisco restaurant, in front of Joe Montana, per TMZ Sports.
March 4, 2018: Smith is sought by SFPD in relation to an alleged domestic-violence incident Saturday night in San Francisco, with the alleged victim suffering from bite marks on the wrists and Smith having reportedly drank two bottles of tequila before fleeing the scene. Smith’s fiancée later says Smith has checked himself into rehab while the SFPD says it is still interested in talking to him.
March 5, 2018: Smith is released by the Raiders, who offer no comment other than announcing the transaction. Raiders owner Mark Davis, though, has a “zero-tolerance” policy in regard to domestic violence.
March 5, 2018: Del Rio chimes in on Twitter again, writing: “Never liked ‘league rules’ that eliminate the ability of teams to offer Aldon and others in his situation the structure they so desperately need.”
March 6, 2018: Smith turned himself in to San Francisco police and was booked on domestic violence-related charges. He is being held on $30,000 bond on misdemeanor charges of willful infliction of corporal injury, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, false imprisonment and vandalism (less than $400).
April 1, 2020: Smith has agreed to a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys that is worth up to $4 million, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Dan Graziano. The NFL has yet to reinstate Smith, though a source told ESPN that Smith has applied for reinstatement and is awaiting a response from the league.