They suffer if they cut him. They suffer if they keep him.
Reuben Foster put the 49ers in a lose-lose situation.
Actually, no. Let me amend that statement. The 49ers put themselves in a lose-lose situation. They never should have drafted Foster in the first place. And they probably know it now. They have to know it.
Police arrested Foster twice already this offseason. They arrested him for marijuana possession 12 days after the 49ers’ final game of the season. And they arrested him seven days after the Super Bowl for domestic violence, criminal threats and possession of an illegal assault rifle.
Foster couldn’t wait to get arrested.
I’m not criticizing him morally. And I’m not defending him morally. I’m looking at him in a strictly football sense, if you’ll permit me. Let me start by saying he’d be in a lot less trouble had he simply left his guns in Alabama and his marijuana in California. Those crimes seem like tricky technicalities.
And, of course, it’s possible he didn’t commit domestic violence. We have to wait for the facts to come out.
As I say, this is not a moral column. This is a football column. I’m focusing on Foster’s effect on the 49ers.
And his effect is only negative. They’d be better off without him and all the trouble he brings.
But, they almost certainly won’t cut him. Unless evidence shows he did something heinous like Ray Rice, the 49ers will keep him. Why? Because they’re too invested to give up on him and let him go elsewhere. They drafted him with a first-round pick. Traded a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick to move up and get him. Those are precious assets. He defined their 2017 draft.
Let’s say the 49ers do cut Foster. In that case, he would go to waivers, and the team with the highest waiver priority — the Cleveland Browns — would claim him without hesitation. For them, he’d be a low-risk addition because they wouldn’t have to use a high draft pick for him. They’d just take him from the top of the discard pile, something the Raiders did with Aldon Smith.
Even if the 49ers keep Foster and all of his baggage, they have to act as if they don’t have him. Because he’s becoming more an absence than a presence.
They simply can’t count on him being available next season, actually being there. The league probably will suspend him for at least six games. He’s a two-time offender this offseason, plus he came into the league with strikes against him (more on that later).
Foster also has injury issues. He missed 48 percent of the 49ers defensive snaps last season due to various ailments. He could miss the entire upcoming season for all kinds of reasons.
The Niners have to find a new starting middle linebacker even though they believed — hoped — Foster was their middle linebacker for years to come. Anything they get from Foster in the future will be gravy.
That means they have to spend money or draft picks or both on a linebacker they didn’t think they’d need. Or two linebackers. Foster plays all three downs. That’s hard to do. The 49ers may need a run-stuffer to replace Foster on first down and second down, and a coverage specialist to replace Foster on third down.