Grant Cohn: Why suspension of 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster won't have big impact

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Good news, 49ers fans. The NFL suspended Reuben Foster two games without pay on Tuesday. For Foster and the 49ers, this suspension is a minor victory. Here’s what you need to know about it.

1. It could have been worse.

It could have been a four-game suspension or a six-game suspension. The NFL’s punishments are erratic and inconsistent.

Sometimes, the NFL comes down hard on a player, such as Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. The league suspended him six games last season for domestic violence, even though he never was arrested or charged with a crime.

Another example: former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington. The NFL suspended him four games without pay in 2013 for failing a drug test — his second marijuana offense since entering the league.

In 2014, after marijuana offense No. 3, the NFL suspended him for three seasons. Ran him out of the league.

Foster was arrested twice this offseason, once for possession of marijuana and once for domestic violence, and charged with three felonies, including possession of an illegal firearm. Most of the charges were dropped.

Foster was not a first-time offender. The marijuana offense was his second since entering the NFL. He failed a drug test at the combine.

Despite all that, the NFL gave Foster nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

2. It will be good for Foster.

He will be healthier thanks to this suspension.

Last year, Reuben Foster had shoulder surgery during the offseason, and missed OTAs and minicamp. He was a rookie who never caught up to the rest of the professionals. He was physically unprepared to play in the NFL.

Fewer than 12 minutes into season opener, Foster suffered a high-ankle sprain and missed the next six games. When he returned, he continuously hurt himself with stingers and neck injuries, and missed plays, even entire drives.

This offseason, Foster didn’t have surgery. He went to OTAs and minicamp when he wasn’t in court. He should be healthier and stronger than ever. We should see the best of him next season. He will have extra time to train and condition during his two-game suspension.

3. It won’t hurt the 49ers.

Foster is good, but the 49ers are used to playing without him. They had plenty of practice last season.

They can overcome Foster’s absence for two games. They have depth at linebacker with Malcolm Smith, Fred Warner and Brock Coyle. Three solid and talented players. A bigger loss would be left tackle Joe Staley.

Without Foster, the 49ers probably will lose Week 1 to the Minnesota Vikings, then win Week 2 against the Detroit Lions. With Foster, the results probably would be no different. His suspension is inconsequential.

4. It doesn’t change much for the outlook of the season.

Fourteen games of Foster sounds great compared to last season, but even 16 games of Foster wouldn’t solve the 49ers’ problems at cornerback and defensive end.

Those are the two most important positions on a defense, and the 49ers have no proven players at either spot. They have question marks at cornerback and journeymen at defensive end.

The question marks are Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. Sherman tore his Achilles last season, and Witherspoon has started only nine games with mixed results.

The journeymen are Cassius Marsh and Jeremiah Attaochu. Both entered the NFL in 2014. Combined, they have 16 sacks in their career.

Foster won’t overcome the lack of talent around him when he returns from suspension.

5. It will reveal his true impact.

Foster is explosive, fast, has range and hits hard. He showed all those terrific qualities last season and in college.

But there are things he still has not shown he can do, things he has to prove.

So far, he hasn’t proven he makes game-changing plays. Last season, he recorded no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries and no interceptions. And in three seasons at Alabama, he recorded no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries and no interceptions.

Foster needs to prove he’s a difference-maker, prove he can carry a defense.

We’ll find out when he’s back.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers for The Santa Rosa Press Democrat and You can reach him at

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