Malcolm Smith had a terrible, terrible 2017. Terrible because he was out before it even began. Terrible because he was brought on as someone familiar with Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme and seen as an upgrade. Terrible because we saw none of that.
Smith may be the most disappointing free agent brought to the 49ers during the Shanahan regime. Yes, worse than Brian Hoyer.
So when 2018 rolls around Smith should be charged up and ready to go, right? No. He showed up in 12 games, the least since his rookie season and started in just five of them. Across the board, his statline was not impressive. Elijah Lee has better numbers and makes almost half of what Smith’s revised contract entails. Besides being cheaper, Lee is also younger.
If not for his revised contract, Smith would not be with the 49ers right now. Even with his revised contract, Smith is on thin ice for 2019. The 49ers carry less of a dead money hit if cut after June 1, so he’s got a training camp, but after that it’s fair season.
Experience: Seven seasons (not including one on IR)
Weight: 225 pounds
He is in the final year of a revised five-year contract. His final two years were void on March 17. For 2019 he has a cap hit of $5,537,500. Per Over the Cap, if cut after June 1 he carries a dead money hit of $1,337,500.
What to expect in 2019
The 49ers linebacking group got a shot in the arm with Fred Warner locking down the starting spot and Kwon Alexander/Dre Greenlaw/Elijah Lee fighting over the other side. Is Smith better than any of those guys to start? Time will tell. Is Smith good enough to be back on the depth chart? That’s another question. If he’s the third man off, the 49ers are simply paying him too much for that. As a backup linebacker that’s a decent wage, but with the talent he’s up against it’s hard to gauge where he fits.
If he remains, it would be either as a backup or because injuries took the linebacking group and the 49ers had no choice. Looking at the roster right now, expect Smith to be more of a rotational player to come in and spell someone in front of him. Given the talent, it’s hard to envision him as a starting linebacker with this unit.
Odds of making the roster
The 49ers have been busy with the linebacker position. They signed Kwon Alexander in free agency and drafted Dre Greenlaw in the 2019 NFL Draft. Smith has been invisible for most of his time in San Francisco and this is a classic case of the 49ers going younger and cheaper. Had Brock Coyle not retired from the NFL, we might not even be having this discussion—Smith could be gone.
Smith will need to really show something to get a roster spot with the 49ers. His contract may be restructured, but it’s still a bit high to be a third-string linebacker. He’s got a shot at training camp and I think it’s a way to gauge how that goes. If everyone stays healthy, and continues to outplay him, he may yet be a casualty.