Aldon the human is worth salvation; Aldon the football player is not

Aldon the human is worth salvation; Aldon the football player is not

Many hopes have been spent on Aldon Smith finding his way clear of the demons that pour themselves out to him. A fair amount of money, too, if you’re one of those human being monetizers.

But the former 49er and soon-to-be former Raider has foiled it all. Whatever haunts him is more than football can fix, and the assumption that there is something to salvage in him will have to be made by professionals outside the professional sports cocoon.

Aldon Smith the human being is worth salvation. Aldon Smith the football player is not.

Oh, somewhere out there a team looking for the illusion of a linebacker whose best days (all 59 of them) are now three years’ past will rationalize a way to giving him some money in hopes of rekindling the sparks that once flew from him, but those sparks died out pretty much when Justin Smith retired, give or take a few days. Aldon Smith became a rumor of a spectre of an old idea of an illusion, and whether losing his namesake’s protection, getting into the deep end of the bottle, or crossing the law until the law won is the explanation for his talent’s end, end it has.

It is trite to say he ruined a great opportunity, because it assumes he had more game in him than those 2½ years in San Francisco, and there is no evidence to support that – only the misplaced conjectures of the angry.

Maybe this was the only fate he could have expected to have because the disease that undermines his resolve is the essence of true ferocity.  Maybe his ghosts are the double-team he cannot split. Maybe Aldon Smith lives a despair we can only guess at.

And maybe not.

But at this point, the only assumption that seems safe to make is that football is not the cure for what ails him. It does not inspire him to stop drinking, it does not give him a focus or a reward for sobriety, and it does not steel his spine in those moments of weakness.

For that reason, and really that reason alone, he should be done with football, and football with him. The sport and the business may not be bad for him as it regards his alcoholism, but it certainly isn’t good.

And there should be the “punishment” for his last act(s) of wagon ejection. Not that he should be taught the no-more-games-for-you lesson for his bad behavior by people who are clearly not good parental substitutes, but that he should simplify his life down to its very studs and framing in hopes of finding the foundation for an alcohol-free life.

Ultimately, Aldon Smith really wasn’t that special a player based on his resume and the number of other players who had two great years and then faded from view. That, though, is irrelevant now. His job now is not to chase quarterbacks but to build his life, if for no better reason to save himself from the hideous end he seemed to be marching toward with a frighteningly purposeful stride.

In short, he doesn’t belong to our disapproving clucks and wagging fingers any longer. He belongs to whomever can guide him toward his better self – that is, if that person can be found and brought to him at the moment when he chooses the help he needs over the hell he has constructed.

Lynch outcome should determine whether Raiders draft a running back

Lynch outcome should determine whether Raiders draft a running back

It’s officially NFL draft week. Marshawn Lynch still isn’t a Raider.

A contract impasse remained as of Sunday morning, a few days before general manager Reggie McKenzie’s desire for a by-Thursday resolution.

Deadlines, even soft ones, prompt deals. But Marshawn is unique, adding a level of uncertainty to procedings. 

The Raiders would prefer Lynch agree to terms on a new contract so they can acquire his rights from Seattle -- that’s the easier part – and know where they stand heading into the NFL Draft.

McKenzie left several doors cracked during a Friday pre-draft presser, saying Lynch’s presence wouldn’t stop him from drafting a rusher, not having the Oakland native wouldn’t guarantee it, and that there’s always a chance Lynch could come later no matter what happens during amateur selection.

Those things could be true. Or, you know, not. McKenzie prefers mystery this time of year.

Bottom line: The Raiders need a bigger back to pair with smaller, yet elusive runners DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.

The Raiders want Lynch to fill the void. Ditto for Raider Nation, especially the Oakland state. A few free-agent options remain, including LaGarrette Blount. Or the Raiders could draft a back, something the Raiders have done well in later rounds.

They got Latavius Murray in the sixth round four years back, and he provided quality before changing uniforms this offseason. They got Washington in the fifth last time and pulled Richard from undrafted free agency. They could mine talent again this year. Waiting seems more likely if Lynch is around. 

Quality abounds in this draft class, with several worthy of early selections and talent easily found late. Let’s inspect McKenzie’s draft options at running back, should he need one:

Good fits: It’s hard to see the Raiders looking at a rusher in the first round, considering the draft’s depth at the position and major defensive needs. A first-round talent might be considered in the second. If controversial former Oklahoma rusher Joe Mixon is available following a free fall due to off-field issues described in detail here, a running back might come early.

Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara could be another Day 2 option, an explosive talent who analysts say has wiggle and power to create coveted yards after contact. He could be a three-down back thanks to quality as a receiver.

Odds are, however, the Raiders will look deeper into the draft. Wyoming’s Brian Hill was an excellent college producer who runs strong and might fit well into the Raiders rotation. Round projections vary, but he should be available on Day 3.

Pittsburgh’s James Conner offers great power at 233 pounds. He could run through tacklers and wear down defenses for the Raiders’ shift backs. He's also well known for drive and work ethic. He is projected as a fifth or sixth round pick.

Brigham Young’s Jamaal Williams might offer value and power rushing later in the draft. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman has tackle-breaking ability, but analysts say he isn’t a strong pass protector.

 

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

The Raiders had an NFL-worst 25 sacks last season, and that’s with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin in their employ. That duo had 18 sacks (and 11 forced fumbles) between them. That left only seven for everyone else. Stacy McGee and Denico Autry had 2.5 each, and McGee isn’t here anymore.

Mario Edwards Jr. was certainly missed last season, when he missed 14 games with a preseason hip injury. The versatile defensive lineman is a solid edge run defender and internal pass rusher in the sub package.

If he’s healthy, Edwards Jr. could pose a real threat rushing the passer next to Irvin or Mack.

“Having Mario healthy will make us a better defense, and that’s not just as a pass rusher,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said in March. “He’s a solid run player. We’ve just got to have him healthy.

“But we’ll continue to add there, too.”

McKenzie subtracted one Tuesday, releasing Dan Williams to free salary cap space. He hasn’t yet added a defensive tackle in free agency, but could certainly do so in next week’s NFL draft.

There’s some quality interior pass rushers in this class. Let’s take a look at some options the Raiders could select and when:

Good fits: The Raiders select 24th overall in this draft, far lower than years past. Some quality defensive tackles might be a proper fit there, especially with depth at positions of need.

They could use some versatility, players like Edwards Jr. who can play multiple techniques. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell is an strong, athletic freak who analysts believe needs to improve his effort and technique. McDowell could develop into a top talent and be viewed as a steal at No. 24, or not realize full potential.

Michigan’s Chris Wormley is a versatile player in the Edwards Jr. mold, a player who seems to fit Raiders needs. Analysts says inconsistency is troubling but has the leadership quality and character the Raiders love. He can be a base end and move inside when required. He also has the size at 6-foot-5, 298 pounds and could develop well at the NFL level while making an immediate impact.

Florida’s Caleb Brantley is also an intriguing prospect adept at reaching the offensive backfield. Analysts say he’s a powerful player with quickness and an ability to work through blocks despite being slightly undersized. Brantley is potential to be a quality NFL pass rusher, and is confident in his ability. He didn’t play a high snap count at Florida, but the Raiders might use him in sub packages as a rookie and fill an important role right away. He’s viewed as a second round pick, and the Silver and Black might cross fingers he’s available at No. 56.

Auburn’s Montravius Adams could help if the Raiders are looking for more of a run stuffer. Clemson’s Carlos Watkins could also play multiple spots and could be available later in the middle rounds. Old Dominion’s Rashaad Coward also fits that mold and would be available in later rounds, though he hasn’t had much pass-rush production.