What you need to know about the NFL’s concussion protocol
- by admin
— — When the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, came into his office a few weeks ago, he was a little perplexed.
How was he supposed to assess a player who had just suffered a concussion and had not been cleared to play?
“How is this going to work with a guy who hasn’t played a game in three years?”
“It’s a bit weird,” he said, “and I’m not sure how to get it straightened out.”
He was referring to defensive end Justin Smith, who had been released by the Denver Broncos last month.
Williams said he had talked with Smith’s family.
But the two were in agreement on a way to make sure Smith would get a chance to play, especially if he had the full support of the team.
So the 49ers agreed to a three-game suspension for Smith, to be enforced for a minimum of three games.
The NFL, which had imposed its own two-game punishment in February, did not specify how it would punish Smith.
The league said the team’s policy was to allow players to return to play if they were cleared to do so.
But there was a twist.
As it turned out, Smith’s status was not the only factor the NFL had in its decision to suspend him.
The 49ers had already imposed a four-game ban on defensive tackle Michael Wilhoite for a violation of the league’s concussion policy, a punishment that was designed to keep him out of the game if he was cleared to resume.
But Wilhoit’s suspension was temporary.
As part of the suspension, the team also released Smith.
That left Wilhoiites in the mix.
He had been a key contributor to the 49s’ success in 2013 and had been working out for the team this week.
But his suspension is only a suspension, and it’s not the type of punishment that can be appealed.
In fact, the NFL is reviewing Wilhoites’ case, and the league has said Wilhoits’ suspension will be permanent, meaning he cannot appeal the suspension.
The decision to release Smith was not a surprise to the NFL.
The team has been tight-lipped about Smith’s condition since he returned to the team last month after serving an eight-game absence because of concussion symptoms.
In an interview with The Associated Press last month, the 49er’s general manager, Trent Baalke, said the club would make its decision in the coming weeks.
Smith’s suspension comes a day after the 49es signed defensive tackle Brandon Mebane to a two-year contract extension.
The deal is worth $7 million in guaranteed money and $3 million in roster bonuses.
It is the second extension the 49-year-old Smith has received in the past week.
Smith has struggled with concussions during his NFL career.
He missed three games in 2015 and 2016 after suffering a concussion against the San Diego Chargers.
He also missed three weeks in 2017 after suffering another concussion in Week 3.
The first concussion occurred during a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when Smith was hit in the head with a helmet-to-helmet hit by Pittsburgh Steelers running back Ben Roethlisberger.
He was cleared by a medical staff after a subsequent examination and cleared to return two days later.
The second concussion occurred on Dec. 17, 2017, against the New Orleans Saints, when he suffered a second concussion in the first half of a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
He did not return.
Smith is expected to be the 49’s starting nose tackle for the foreseeable future.
The injury to Wilhoitoites, 31, is the latest in a string of high-profile concussions in the NFL in recent years.
He left the league in 2018 after being diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and suffered another concussion the following year, which he later played through.
He has since had surgery on both his shoulders.
SANFORD, Fla.— — When the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, came into his office a few weeks ago,…