December 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith (99) rushes against San Diego Chargers tackle King Dunlap (77) during the fourth quarter at Levi
On the days leading up to Sunday’s game, the Oakland Raiders made a move that could potentially affect their whole season. The Raiders went across the Bay area to bring in a familiar yet troubled face, signing former San Francisco 49er Aldon Smith to a one-year deal. And this could be trouble for Cincinnati because the former All-Pro is eligible to play tomorrow.
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The Raiders defense has been notably soft in recent memory; its attempts at signing impact veterans has not panned out for the team and the defense has been picked apart consistently. Meanwhile, Smith has had issues staying on the field due to both health and character concerns. This signing is mutually beneficial to both the Raiders and Smith and could be the most impactful signing in all of 2015.
No one can deny Smith’s talent; it’s his off-the-field issues that have put him in career jeopardy. Even in the wake of Aldon Smith’s signing in Oakland, Santa Clara County DA has filed three misdemeanor charges against Smith. These charges include a DUI, a hit-and-run with property damage and vandalism. However, if new head coach Coach Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. can motivate Smith to stay out of trouble and to keep progressing as a player, the rest of the NFL could be in trouble.
Teaming up Smith with Khalil Mack could be downright scary. Smith led the NFC in sacks with 19.5 back in 2012, while Mack was the NFL’s highest-rated 3-4 outside linebacker in 2014. Teaming these two incredibly talented linebackers could turn the Raiders defense from a laughingstock into a nightmare; Smith is a premiere pass-rusher while Mack is an elite run-stopper. The two players are explosive and electric, they compliment each other well and they still haven’t even reached their potential–a scary thought for NFL opponents. While there’s always a chance that this signing could be a swing-and-a-miss for the Raiders, it is a move that has the potential to drastically improve the Raiders franchise.
So while Smith could eventually wreak havoc in 2015, he will be limited against the Bengals–that’s always a plus for Cincinnati fans. Smith has yet to learn the entire defensive system and needs to get into better shape before he becomes an every-down player, so the Bengals are lucky to face Smith early on in the season rather than late. And even if Smith plays double-digit snaps, he’ll be facing Andrew Whitworth and a Bengals offensive line that is one of the best in the NFL. Good luck to you, Aldon–you’re going to need it.