The San Francisco 49ers said on Sunday that they plan to release troubled linebacker Reuben Foster after he was arrested at the team hotel in Tampa, Florida, on a domestic violence charge. He can’t formally be released until Monday at 1 p.m.
Foster was arrested at 2900 Bayport Drive in Tampa (the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay) at 9:10 p.m. on Saturday night, according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s arrest report. He was charged with one count of first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence battery, and is being held on $2,000 bail.
“I can tell you it’s extremely disappointing for me, for Kyle, for ownership,” general manager John Lynch told reporters in Tampa, as the team readied to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “We care a lot about Reuben, and I can tell you that it was a situation where we laid out some very specific ground rules for Reuben, as we do for all our players.”
The team sent out a one-sentence release Sunday morning indicating it will cut Foster, who has been in and out of trouble since even before the 2017 NFL Draft, when he was dinged for passing a diluted urine sample at the NFL Scouting Combine. The 31st overall pick, Foster had a stellar rookie season, before being booked on a gun charge and domestic violence this offseason. The domestic violence charge was dropped after the alleged victim recanted.
“We have a set of standards, and in this case, it was communicated exceptionally clear, to the point as to what we expected out of him,” Lynch said. “Unfortunately, what transpired yesterday, this isn’t a comment on what happened there, because that would be mere speculation on our part. It’s more of a comment on him not living up to what we had communicated, to the energy and the time that we invested in him.”
Foster, who has been on the injury list with a shoulder and a hamstring over the past month, was questionable to play. He has 29 tackles in six games, well below the pace of his rookie season, when he had 72 stops in 10 games.
A release from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department indicated that police arrived at the Grand Hyatt Hotel shortly after 9 p.m. on Nov. 24. Foster and a female victim were involved in a verbal altercation. The victim stated that during the altercation, Foster slapped her phone out of her hand, pushed her in the chest and slapped her with an open hand on the right side of her face. Officers observed a one-inch scratch on the victim’s left collar bone. Lynch said, in response to a question about why the victim was even allowed into the hotel, that the two floors on which the team stays are “heavily secured,” as are meeting rooms, but ultimately, the hotel is a public place, and players can get hotel rooms for friends and family.
“It was not on our floors, I can say that unequivocally,” Lynch said.
Lynch was at dinner when the alleged incident occurred, and since Foster was still in custody as of Sunday morning, had yet to speak with him. He did not regret choosing Foster in the first round, even with the off-field concerns that have borne fruit in the former Crimson Tide linebacker’s second year.
“We have to learn from the process,” Lynch said. “We have and we will, but at the same time, you can’t play scared. You’ve got to trust your evaluations … They’re fallible. His [issue] wasn’t nearly as bad as a lot of them. Ultimately, we have to own it, and I own it.”
In January, Foster was charged with second-degree marijuana possession in Alabama. In February, he was involved in a dispute with girlfriend Elissa Ennis, and in April was charged for domestic violence, making criminal threats and weapons possession (a Sig Sauer 516 SBR).
During the investigation Saturday, the officers learned that Foster and the victim had lived together in the past, and were involved in an on-and-off relationship over the last three years. There was no confirmation as to whether or not the victim was the same woman — Ennis — who had accused Foster of domestic violence this past offseason, and later recanted. According to reporting by David Lombardi of The Athletic, the victim is 28, as is Ennis, who was in Tampa the night of the incident, per her Instagram.
“I want to be clear that this is an organizational decision,” Lynch said. “Kyle and I talked last night, we brought it to ownership, and we’re all in lock-step in the decision. It was not easy on anybody … I will say after the events of the offseason, we were very clear with him, I think very fair, and he understood exactly what that was.”
The Alabama drug charge was eventually dismissed after Foster completed a first-time offender diversion course, and a judge ruled there was no probable cause on the first two charges in the February incident, after Ennis recanted the allegations as a means to get revenge on Foster. The weapons charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and Foster pleaded no contest to that in June. He was sentenced to two years of probation, 232 hours of community service and issued a $235 fine.
In response to the drug charge and his conduct, the NFL suspended Foster for the first two games of the season. Lynch said that Foster would have to continue to earn his place on the team with his behavior. He had been said to have been making great progress, and was lockered next to veteran Richard Sherman, who showed support for Foster by attending Foster’s arraignment after having just signed with San Francisco.
“The really sad thing is, of late in particular, he had shown he was really taking some very positive steps and maturing in a really nice fashion,” Lynch said. “Unfortunately in life, there’s consequences for your actions. When you show bad judgement, particularly after something’s been communicated very clearly, what the expectations are, there are consequences.”
Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan said in April, following the domestic violence arrest, that the team had a zero-tolerance policy. The team had invested, Lynch said, a lot of resources into Foster since then, but, Lynch continued, “he didn’t protect the team. Nobody is bigger than the team.”
On Saturday, Lynch said, Foster showed “extremely poor judgement.”
“That doesn’t mean we don’t love him,” Lynch said. “We all do. We care for him, but we feel like it’s in the best interests of our organization to move on at this point. That’s a very tough decision.”