By the end of the 2017 season, the 49ers knew they had someone special in linebacker Reuben Foster.
The former Alabama standout, whom the Niners moved up to draft in the first round last spring, got off to a slow start because of injuries, but morphed into a wide-ranging difference-maker on defense. Over 10 games, Foster was in on 72 tackles and was ranked among the NFL’s best rookies and selected to the league’s all-rookie team.
In fact, the analytic website Pro Football Focus graded Foster as the fourth-best linebacker in the league.
But going into the 2018 season, Foster’s future is in doubt. Foster was arrested in February on suspicion of domestic violence and a weapons charge. His case is still being investigated by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office. The arrest follows an earlier incident in January when Foster was detained in Alabama on a marijuana possession charge.
Despite the incidents, the 49ers haven’t cut ties with Foster and are waiting to see what develops and how Foster conducts himself.
This week, 49ers, CEO Jed York told reporters at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., that the linebacker’s future with the team may hinge on whether he can stay out of trouble.
“We’d love Reuben to be on this team,” York said. “And we’d love him to participate for us. But if he’s not doing things off the field that allow us to be able to rely on him – or he’s doing something that we’re not comfortable with off the field and it’s proven that’s what’s going on – I think the guys have said then you’re just going to have to move on.”
The “guys” in this case are general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, who have told York they’ve had conversations with Foster about his off-field behavior and what they expect from him.
“From my conversations with John and Kyle, I know Reuben is very cognizant of where his position is right now, and his time with the 49ers could potentially be over if he continues to do things outside of the team that aren’t what we want him to be a part of,” said York.
York says the next step is wait for the district attorney’s office to finish its investigation and come to a conclusion.