On April 7th, 2017, former 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock was arrested for hitting a woman he had been dating. The following day, 49ers general manager John Lynch released Brock and reiterated the organization's commitment to character.

Following 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster's second arrest this off-season last Sunday, most recently for alleged domestic violence, John Lynch now faces the most challenging decision of his tenure so far. Since their introduction, Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have reiterated themes of discipline, accountability, and character as integral to the organization, and maintaining their commitment to these virtues should mean releasing Reuben Foster.

One of the possible reasons owner Jed York made a talking point about "winning with class" and why Lynch and Shanahan have touted character and accountability as top priorities may be due to the organization's mishandling of multiple 49ers arrests while Trent Baalke was the general manager.

Former 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith had perennial Pro Bowl potential, which may have been why Baalke defended keeping him after he was arrested for making bomb threats at LAX and did not release him until after Smith's fifth arrest in three years. But the optics of how it was handled implied that Baalke stalled on doing the right thing because of Aldon Smith's talent. In hindsight, keeping Aldon Smith not only did nothing to help the team but it may have made Smith more likely to continue acting out due to lack of consequences.

In August of 2014, former 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence toward his fiancée. Baalke and the 49ers drew criticism for letting McDonald continue to play in games, despite the fact that police had previously been called to McDonald's home in May of that year due to a domestic dispute where his fiancée was alleged to have held a handgun prior to McDonald calling 911. It wasn't until McDonald was charged with rape by intoxication in December 2014 that Baalke conceded that McDonald had displayed a pattern of behavior that now justified his release. McDonald would later be arrested twice in May of 2015, first for domestic violence and possible child endangerment and again two days later for violating a restraining order, preceding his release from the Bears.

In March of 2015, former 49ers fullback Bruce Miller was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery of a spouse or cohabitant and he was not suspended at the time. It wasn't until he was arrested in September of 2016 for four felony accounts, including assaulting a 70-year-old man, that the 49ers released Miller.

Do you see a pattern here?

It seems that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were indeed aware of the previous front office's pattern of handling off-field issues, which may have been a factor in their vocal emphasis on high character, accountability, and discipline during various media interactions and their swift and decisive release of Tramaine Brock following Brock's arrest. While John Lynch did leave himself an out about handling off-field issues following Brock's release, saying that they would "treat each one of them as a unique and different situation," he now is painted into a corner of sorts since Foster has definitively displayed a pattern of off-field trouble.

It's not usually a good sign when one has to defend the character of a draft choice before that draft choice even signs a contract with the team, but John Lynch was forced to defend his taking on risk on Foster from the moment he drafted him. Lynch was forced to defend his selection of Foster amidst character concerns based on Reuben's pattern of off-field issues that predated him being drafted by the 49ers.

Foster had a tragic upbringing, including him and his mother being shot by his father, that likely affected his emotional and social development but could also be a testament to his resiliency to make it to the NFL. But childhood adversity is not a reason in itself to deem Foster a risk. Reuben's off-field issues at Alabama and prior to the draft led to some taking him completely off the draft board as someone too high-risk, not unlike how some teams took Aaron Hernandez off their draft boards due to character concerns. Foster's risks are now, in hindsight, seeming like more valid and serious concerns.

Before starting at Alabama, some speculated that Foster's father, Danny, who had escaped from prison and had made a Twitter account to try and get back in his children's life, might be a possible negative influence in his son's life. While initially committed to Auburn, Foster got an Auburn tattoo before changing his mind, suggesting he may have a susceptibility to impulsivity. After he was a star linebacker at Alabama, Foster was at an Auburn nightclub where one of his friends Recco Cobb, 43, was among three people shot to death. A relative of Cobb's, Tarabien Latrent Cobb, 33, was arrested and charged with murder, according to an article written by Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated. This off-field issue added to concerns about how friends and family might influence Foster.

During the NFL combine, Foster was sent home due to a heated argument with medical staff and was later deemed to have given a dilute urine sample. Robert Klemko shared some details about what led to Foster being sent home from the combine:



In January of 2018, Foster was arrested in Alabama for possession of marijuana, which many did not see as a major transgression in itself but possibly more concerning when taken together with his previous failed drug test. Now that Foster has been arrested for domestic violence, the elephant in the room is a distinct pattern of off-field issues that must be addressed.

One of the qualities of many great leaders is acting with consistency and integrity. This doesn't mean each situation isn't unique with nuanced complexity. But Foster's situation is not a single incident. He now has two arrests in a month's time in the context of a pre-existing pattern of off-field concerns. If the 49ers don't respond to it the same way they reacted to Tramaine Brock, it would appear to be a double standard that won't sit well with fans, possibly teammates, and could likely be detrimental to Foster himself.

During the Baalke era, the 49ers were not consistent with discipline and it contributed to the team having repeated offenses. If John Lynch truly wants to change the culture and prioritize character, accountability, and discipline, he must learn from the 49ers' mistakes of the past and cut Reuben Foster.