Arrested and charged with second-degree possession of marijuana on Friday night in Tuscaloosa, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster could face repercussions outside the legal system.
Second-degree possession is generally considered as having a small amount of marijuana for personal use and is a Class A misdemeanor in Alabama. Last week, WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder was ordered to perform 60 hours of community service at the YMCA after being arrested in Tuscaloosa for second-degree possession of marijuana.
But the charges also could end up affecting Foster’s contract, bank account and availability.
On Monday, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network told KNBR-AM in San Francisco that, based on precedent, the arrest could result in a one-game suspension for Foster.
The arrest also could void the guarantee in Foster’s rookie contract.
After being selected from Alabama with the 31st pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Foster signed a four-year, $9,035,568 contract with San Francisco, which included $7,677,444 in guaranteed money.
According to the sports financial web site overthecap.com, the guaranteed portion of Foster’s contract included the signing bonus of $4,711,320, base salaries of $465,000 in 2017, $875,708 in 2018 and $1,286,416 in 2019, and $339,000 of the 2020 base salary of $1,697,124. That amounts to $2,501,124 that San Francisco would be obligated to pay Foster even if he never played another game of football.
But Joel Corry of CBS Sports reported Foster’s contract includes a clause that strips out the guarantee if he’s fined by the NFL for an infraction involving substances of abuse.
That doesn’t mean Foster won’t get the money. His contract will remain in place, but he’ll have to complete it to get all the money if the guarantee becomes void.
While Rapoport cites a one-game suspension as recent precedent and USA Today’s database on NFL arrests shows players arrested for personal-use amounts of marijuana receiving that punishment, the NFL Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse doesn’t have a one-game suspension among its penalties.
The one-game suspensions might have been dispensed through the league’s personal-conduct policy.
If Foster is penalized under the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, he’s most likely facing a fine. But that would depend on where he is in the policy’s intervention program, and a player’s place in the NFL drug program is confidential.
Why would Foster even be in the program already?
NFL players can enter Stage 1 of the league’s intervention program via a positive test result, behavior (which can be indicated by an arrest) and self-referral.
At last year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Foster had a diluted urine sample, which the league treats as a positive – or failed – test. The NFL automatically red-flags diluted results as an attempt to skirt the testing for drugs, including performance-enhancing drugs, which fall under another NFL policy.
Foster said the sample was the result of drinking large amounts of water and Gatorade trying to recover quickly from an illness that had made him nauseous and incontinent.
A complicating factor for the NFL in deciding its course of action concerning Foster is the difference in marijuana laws in Alabama, where he was arrested, and in California, where he works. California is one of the eight states that have legalized marijuana for personal use, but Alabama is not.
Adding to the possible upheaval around Foster this week was the loss of assistant coach Ken Norton Jr., who is headed to Seattle to become the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, according to reports on Wednesday.
Norton never worked with Foster. The former NFL linebacker had spent the previous three seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders.
But Norton lost his job when the Raiders replaced head coach Jack Del Rio with Jon Gruden, and San Francisco hired him on Nov. 8 with the title of assistant head coach – defense/inside linebackers, and it sounded as though he’d been brought in to work with Foster.
“(San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh) just made it clear that they have a young player, similar to the Bruce (Irvin) situation — very talented, could really do a lot of special things — and there’s no person that he’d like to teach him than myself,” Norton said last week.
Norton hadn’t met with Foster when he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area after being hired by San Francisco, but he described the linebacker as “fast, smart, productive, around the ball, passionate, all the things that you expect good linebackers to do, hits really hard, really physical.”
“From everything on the surface, looks really good,” Norton said. “But you never know. You never can judge a book by its cover. So you have to see exactly what he’s made of and what his motivation is.”
Despite missing six full games, Foster still finished as San Francisco’s second-leading tackler in the 2017 season – five tackles behind team leader Dontae Johnson’s 77.
Foster suffered an ankle injury in his first NFL game and missed the next five contests. When the former Auburn High School star returned, he sustained a rib injury that caused him to miss another game. But Foster started every game for San Francisco in the second half of the season.
The 49ers posted a 6-2 record in those games after losing all eight of their contests in the first half of the season.