Aldon Smith, it turns out, was not hurting for NFL suitors as a suspended free agent.
According to Mike Klis of 9News, the Denver Broncos were “among several teams” who were interested in signing the former Pro Bowl pass-rusher. Smith expressed a “mutual” desire to land in the Mile High City, reuniting with former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, now the Broncos’ head coach.
Instead, Smith accepted a heavily-incentivized one-year, $4 million contract from the Dallas Cowboys. He formed his decision after meeting HC Mike McCarthy in January and around the basis of rejoining defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who held the same title in San Francisco.
“I felt like he genuinely cares about me and just what I’m trying to do, and just me as a man,” Smith recently said of McCarthy on FOX Football Now, per The Athletic. “That was really important.”
The money probably helped, too. Klis notes the Broncos floated a “vet-minimum” offer to Smith, which “fell well short” of the deal he got from Dallas. He’ll receive $910,000 in base salary for 2020, with an additional $2 million available in unlockable sack escalators: $500,000 for eight, $1 million for 10, $1.5 million for 12, and $2 million for 14. He’ll also earn $40,625 each time he’s on the active gameday roster, or $650,000 total.
Smith would have been a nice get for Denver, who already boast future Hall-of-Famer Von Miller and 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb as edge-rushing bookends — arguably the league’s best duo. He could’ve spelled Miller, a close personal friend, and likely thrived under Fangio, who many consider a defensive mastermind.
The owner of 47.5 sacks across 59 career games, spread between the Niners and then-Oakland Raiders, didn’t do bad for himself in Dallas, however. Title aside, assuming reinstatement is granted, Smith should contribute immediately to Nolan’s unit.
Hand in the dirt, the former No. 7 overall selection will aid a stacked (if underachieving) defensive line that features DeMarcus Lawrence and free-agent prizes Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. Standing up, he’ll supplement an uber-talented linebacker corps highlighted by Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee.
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Smith Slept Under Car in ‘Rock Bottom’ Moment
The 30-year-old has a story fit for Hollywood screenplays: Rare player on the verge of superstardom loses everything due to crippling substance-abuse issues, only to shake his demons and receive a golden opportunity for redemption — a half-decade later, with the most recognizable organization in football.
There’s finally light at the end of the tunnel, an expectation that Smith will be reinstated by commissioner Roger Goodell for the upcoming campaign. But that light was, not long ago, shrouded in pitch-black darkness. For the one-time Pro Bowler to overcome a long battle with alcoholism, things had to get worse before they got better. Much worse.
“Rock bottom” was met in 2018.
“I was in a really dark place,” Smith explained Thursday on FOX Football Now, via the Dallas Morning News. “I didn’t have a lot of value for how I thought about myself … I was sleeping under a car for some nights. My sickness took me there. And I had a home to sleep in.”
His guardian angel proved to be Jay Glazer, venerable NFL insider and noted MMA practitioner, who helps run Merging Vets & Players, a Los Angeles-based support program designed to bring together combat veterans and professional athletes. For nine months, Glazer trained Smith amid a hopeful return to the sport he once dominated, and the latter, it was recently revealed, never skipped a workout.
“We’re going on nine months now and he has not missed a single session. Not one in nine months!” Glazer wrote in his latest mailbag for The Athletic. “He’s shown accountability to the whole group. He really bonded with the veterans. He’s talked about his sobriety. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to open up to 80 to 100 total strangers in a group setting, but a lot of our vets are battling sobriety issues, too, and Smith has been extremely vulnerable and open about it. Vulnerability is real strength, not the muscles on the outside.”
Though there will be an acclimation period to shake off the rust from prolonged inactivity, a process that won’t happen overnight, Smith is catalyzing his darkest personal moments and channeling his prolonged NFL ban into a turned-leaf mindset, an overwhelming appreciation to prove his worth — his actual worth.
“It gave me a greater appreciation for the game I’ve been blessed to play,” he said, per The Athletic. “I’m just so excited that the Cowboys and the NFL has given me a chance to come back and finish what I started.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL