49ers release linebacker Malcolm Smith, sign wide receiver Nick Williams

49ers release Malcolm Smith, sign Nick Williams
GLENDALE, AZ – OCTOBER 28: Linebacker Malcolm Smith #51 of the San Francisco 49ers tackles tight end Jermaine Gresham #84 of the Arizona Cardinals during the fourth quarter at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers parted ways with linebacker Malcolm Smith after two disappointing and injury-riddled seasons. In a corresponding roster move, the Niners signed former Denver Broncos wide receiver Nick Williams.

Two years after their splash signing of linebacker Malcolm Smith, the San Francisco 49ers parted ways with the oft-injured veteran prior to Week 4 of the 2019 NFL preseason. The news of Smith’s release was first reported by Mike Garafolo of NFL Network:

Soon after the news of Smith’s release broke, the 49ers confirmed the transaction in a press release on the team’s official website.

By releasing Smith well in advance of Saturday’s 53-man roster deadline — and each team’s last game of the preseason this Thursday — the former Super Bowl MVP can immediately sign with another NFL team and begin to digest a new defensive playbook.

49ers general manager John Lynch likely provided Smith with this opportunity as an act of good faith, after Smith agreed to restructure his contract over the offseason. Smith was scheduled to make approximately $1.3 million during the 2019 season under his new deal.

The 49ers originally signed Smith to a surprisingly expensive 5-year, $26.5 million contract in March 2017, which included a $7 million signing bonus. Smith’s signing bonus was prorated over five years in his original deal, so he will cost the team $4.2 million in dead money against the salary cap this season.

At the time of his signing, Smith’s contract was criticized by many as too expensive, particularly for a player who regularly underperformed as a starting inside linebacker. The free-agent signing made Bleacher Report’s list of each team’s “biggest mistake” of the 2017 offseason, where the move was described as “baffling.”

Smith’s stint in San Francisco got off to a bad start when the linebacker tore his pectoral in August, forcing him to miss the entire 2017 season. Smith continued his streak of injuries during 2018 training camp, as a pair of leg injuries kept him out of the first two games of the regular season.

Smith started six games last year, and played extensively in four other contests, but was unimpressive throughout the season — similar to his two years as a starter with the Oakland Raiders. The veteran LB managed to tally only 35 tackles during his time with the 49ers and was particularly poor in coverage, where he allowed a 122.5 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks, per Pro Football Focus.

49ers WR Nick Williams

Lynch and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan immediately filled Smith’s roster spot with former Denver Broncos wide receiver Nick Williams, who was released by the team yesterday at the wideout’s request.

Williams has extensive experience working under Shanahan over the course of his career. The 28-year-old wide receiver signed his first NFL contract with the Washington Redskins in 2013, and then followed Shanahan to the Atlanta Falcons in 2015:

San Francisco 49ers WR Nick Williams – NFL Statistics
GamesReceivingRushingTotal Yds
3 yrsATL17036252489.92291.514.669.4%6.9259.9248202
1 yrLAR2032178.50111.08.566.7%5.728.517000
1 yrWAS50113155.0060.63.027.3%1.435.015010

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table

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Williams has little chance to make the 49ers’ final 53-man roster, given the team’s logjam at the wide receiver position. However, given his familiarity with Shanahan’s offense, Williams will likely see action on Thursday in the hopes of showcasing his ability to other teams, or potentially finding a spot on the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad to start the season.