Raiders unsure about future for Smith and Edwards

Two Raiders pass rushers could be returning soon, but there’s still no exact word on when that could be.

Linebacker Aldon Smith could return by Friday, at the latest, or simply have his petition for reinstatement to the NFL rejected; while defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. is expected back by the Raiders at some point this season but with no clear timetable having been openly established.

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio confirmed that much during his press conference on Monday, stating:

“Until he gets cleared, it’s just kind of wait and see.”

Smith, though, appears to be a larger question mark. Simply filing for reinstatement doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be back, and it’s not uncommon for players in stage three of the NFL’s substance abuse program are denied reinstatement.

Former NFL wide receiver Josh Gordon was denied reinstatement by the league earlier this year, and history has shown that the veil of private information can loom large for the NFL and players working to combat their final strike.

Not long after Gordon’s reinstatement was denied this last April, it was reported by FOX Sports that he’d failed a drug test while suspended.

And during the summer, a video was posted onto a social media account that was regularly used by Smith, showing a man smoking what appeared to be a blunt — weed rolled in cigar paper.

Smith immediately denied that it was him in the video, but curiously, checked into rehab shortly after the incident, according to TMZ.

The NFL has no clear guidelines for players to be reinstated, other than that they must remain clean on and off the field, in all areas of their lives. By checking into rehab, it seems evident that Smith did not while serving the entirety of his suspension.

The NFL’s substance abuse makes a few things pretty straightforward, though:

“In the player’s application, he must include information about his treatment, abstinence from substance abuse throughout the entire suspension, involvement in any substance-abuse related incidences, and arrest and/or convictions for any criminal activity (including substance-abuse related offenses).”

It’s tough to know whether a stint in rehab will have a negative impact on Smith, though, since addiction is considered a disability under law, and the NFL could be wandering up a slippery slope by holding that against Smith, regardless of what has been written into the current collective bargaining agreement.

If Smith was reinstated, it’s also tough to immediately determine his role with the Raiders. It seems reasonable that he serve as a backup to Bruce Irvin, or perhaps play with his hand in the dirt alongside Khalil Mack.

And the latter would happen only if his conditioning was up to the wishes of Del Rio and the Raiders coaching staff, which is tough to do when you don’t have the financial support of the NFL and can’t field the support of the team.

Smith is 27 years old, and not yet passed the age that most players find their prime, but without playing much over the last three seasons, it’s certainly possible that his level of play only warrants that of a backup, at least through the 2016 season.

The Raiders aren’t permitted to have contact with Smith while he’s suspended, which includes learning new concepts from the playbook or studying opponents using proprietary information or devices.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported over the weekend that the deadline for the NFL to respond to Smith’s request for reinstatement is Friday, the end of a 60-day period, but the news might not be what Raider Nation wants to hear.

Perhaps the most encouraging news to come out of Alameda this week could be that Edwards Jr. has received clearance to return to practice.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.