San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has been suspended for the first nine games of the season for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct and substance-abuse policies. He will miss four games for substance abuse and five games for personal conduct – which isn’t exactly the way a Super Bowl contender wants to start it season.

“It’s significant,” NFL expert Jason La Canfora said on Ferrall on the Bench. “I thought it would be significant. I guess it’s just the finality of when you see it on paper and you know all the appeals are exhausted and you know that the team knows this is what they’re up against.”

And it’s not just Smith. NaVorro Bowman, who continues to recover from a torn ACL and MCL that he sustained during San Francisco’s NFC Championship loss to Seattle, will begin the season on the PUP list. The earliest he can return is a Week 7 matchup at Denver on Sunday Night Football.

“(He’s) probably back in the second half of the year, but nobody can guarantee it,” La Canfora said. “And Alex Boone, maybe they get that (contract situation) resolved eventually or maybe they don’t. And the coach, this might be his last year because he’s a lame duck. He’s going in his lame duck year after this season and if they don’t extend him before that, I think they’ll end up trading him.”

Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Anquan Boldin, meanwhile, are all in their 30s and could be a little long in the tooth at this point.

And yet, all hope is not lost.

“Saying all that, I picked these guys to win the Super Bowl, so I’m kind of talking out of both sides of my mouth here,” La Canfora said. “But I really feel like – and this is probably a stupid thing to say – but I feel like it’s a feast-or-famine year for the 49ers. I think this is either the year they put the cherry on the top and it’s the culmination of them scraping and clawing to get to the top of the mountain, or somebody pours grease down that mountain and they go siding down.”

More than anything, the 49ers need improved play from Colin Kaepernick. The defense finished seventh against the pass and fourth against the run last year, while the rushing offense was third in football. The passing offense, however, was 30th – and Kaepernick will have quite the crew of pass-catchers at his disposal.

But losing Smith hurts. He’ll miss several big games, including home affairs against the Bears, Eagles and Chiefs and road trips to Arizona, Denver and New Orleans. He is next eligible to play against the Giants on Nov. 16. The silver lining is that Smith, as of now, will be available for both games against Seattle (at home Nov. 27 and on the road Dec. 14).

“I think it either snowballs in a positive direction or snowballs in a negative direction,” La Canfora said. “I’m going to stick with positive, and maybe getting Aldon back in Week 10 gets them over the top. But boy, in that division, it’s going to be tough.”


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