49ers Cap Casualty No. 3: LB Malcolm Smith
Signing Garcon to an expensive deal was an understandable personnel move, given the 49ers’ immediate need at the position and the NFL’s competitive market for productive wide receivers. On the other hand, San Francisco’s acquisition of linebacker Malcolm Smith was doomed from the start.
After playing four years in a reserve role for the Seattle Seahawks — which included one outstanding performance — Smith’s two seasons as a starting linebacker with the Oakland Raiders ended in failure, despite his relatively affordable two-year, $7 million deal.
When the Raiders let Smith walk in free agency, the 49ers pounced, singing the veteran to a five-year deal worth up to $26.5 million with over $13 million guaranteed. Smith’s contract with San Francisco quickly found its way onto Pro Football Focus’ list of “free agency moves that make no sense” for 2017:
"He has since muddled through two poor years in Oakland, missing a monstrous 36 tackles across both seasons. In coverage in 2016, Smith allowed six touchdowns, one shy of the worst mark in the league among linebackers, and yet the 49ers signed him to a five-year, $24.5 million contract with $13 million in guarantees, giving him a substantial pay raise as a reward for bad play."
Smith didn’t have the chance to miss tackles or play poorly in coverage for the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, as an August injury ended his season before it began:
After recovering from his prior injury, Smith injured his hamstring in August 2018, which forced the linebacker to miss the first two games of the season. When he finally returned to the field, the 49ers received what they should have expected all along: a veteran who knew defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s system but was unable to flourish in it.
Smith’s tackling problems continued, but his deficiencies in the passing game, which were on display against the Seahawks in the teams’ first matchup, eventually forced the Niners’ coaching staff to bench their expensive free-agent acquisition.
The San Francisco 49ers have little use for Smith going forward given his $5.5 million salary. Releasing Smith will cost the Niners’ $4.2 million in dead money, so a post-June 1 designation is also possible.