Malcolm Smith's return is big upgrade for 49ers' defense


Malcolm Smith's return is big upgrade for 49ers' defense

Reuben Foster’s preliminary hearing on three felony charges is scheduled for Thursday, which means there could soon be some clarity on his future with the 49ers.

The 49ers tried to approach this offseason as if Foster would not be available. The club re-signed Brock Coyle, who started 10 games, including each of the team’s six victories. The 49ers signed veteran inside linebacker Korey Toomer and added promising BYU linebacker Fred Warner in the third round of the draft.

But the biggest addition to the 49ers’ group of linebackers is expected to be a player who has already been in the building for more than a year.

The 49ers’ highest-priced long-term free-agent acquisition on defense in the first two offseasons of the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan regime was linebacker Malcolm Smith, who signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract on the first day of free agency in 2017.

The coaching staff raved about Smith throughout the offseason program a year ago and was devastated when Smith sustained a season-ending torn pectoral early in training camp.

“As a football player, not being able to do the thing you love and the thing you always dream of doing since you were a little boy is pretty difficult,” Smith told reporters recently during the 49ers’ offseason program.

“It was a challenging time for me personally but it was good to see our growth as a team throughout the year. I tried to be around as much as possible.”

Smith should be able to participate in organized team activities, which opens next week on the 49ers’ practice field in Santa Clara. As the 49ers entered the offseason, the plan was for Smith and Foster to be lined up as the starting inside linebackers. The two positions are interchangeable, but Smith was expected to play on the weak side, while Foster was lined up in the middle.

The 49ers felt good about combining the young and talented Foster with Smith, 28, a six-year veteran and Super Bowl MVP while with the Seattle Seahawks.

But the 49ers and Foster decided it was best for him to not participate in the early stages of the offseason program after he was formally charged with two counts of domestic violence and possession of an assault weapons. The accuser of the alleged domestic violence incident has since publicly stated, through her attorney, the allegations were based on her initial lies to police.

Smith and Foster never stepped onto the field together last season, so they did not have an opportunity to build chemistry. If Foster returns to the team, Smith said he hopes to provide leadership through example.

Check out the 49ers' fresh official 2020 NFL Draft hats from New Era

Check out the 49ers' fresh official 2020 NFL Draft hats from New Era

The 2020 NFL Draft is still scheduled to take place from April 23 through April 25, but it will look a bit different than what we’re used to.

Instead of being hosted in Las Vegas with all of the pomp and circumstance events, the draft reportedly will be held via TV studio while cutting into live looks of the teams making decisions due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

While we don’t know how it’ll ultimately look -- as we have nothing previous to compare it to -- we do know the hats the draftees will sport after their name is called.

New Era dropped the Official NFL Draft Hats on Tuesday, with each cap sporting the logo on all black with their taglines stitched on the sides. 

Here are what the 49ers hats look like. What do you all think?

[RELATED: Why NFL should award Raiders NFL Draft in 2022]

New Era also offers alternates with bigger logos.

Despite a lot of changes to the draft, at least one thing will remain familiar.

Emmanuel Sanders was down to 49ers, Saints, Packers in NFL free agency

Emmanuel Sanders was down to 49ers, Saints, Packers in NFL free agency

Emmanuel Sanders is a man of his word. He said he would prioritize an opportunity to contend for a Super Bowl when deciding which team he was going to sign with in free agency, and given the finalists for his services, that's precisely what he did.

Sanders joined "The Rich Eisen Show" on Monday and explained that his decision ultimately came down to the NFC's top three seeds from last season.

"I was talking to Green Bay, I was talking to the Niners and just trying to figure out what type of deal, what type of money are we talking about," Sanders explained. "And then the Saints called, and I was ecstatic about them calling. The opportunity to play with Drew Brees and everything. The numbers made sense -- Drew has two more years left on his deal, and I signed a two-year deal."

As you might recall, the 49ers and Packers earned the Nos. 1 and 2 overall seeds in the NFC last season -- and a first-round bye -- while the Saints finished as the No. 3 seed. New Orleans' season ended in the wild-card round, whereas San Francisco defeated Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl LIV.

While the 49ers and Saints didn't face each other in the playoffs, they did combine for a thrilling regular-season shootout in Week 14 -- a 48-46 San Francisco road win in which Sanders played a huge role, catching seven passes for 157 receiving yards and a touchdown. The next time he returns to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it won't be as a visiting player.

"I'm just excited to be a New Orleans Saint," Sanders continued. "I looked at the schedule -- we've got 11 or 12 games inside in a dome. Michael Thomas being my counterpart, Drew Brees throwing the ball, Sean Payton calling the plays -- a wide-open spread offense just like I was with Peyton [Manning] in 2014 -- it just set a new fire under me."

[RELATED: NFL will expand playoffs to seven teams beginning in 2020]

Though Sanders didn't elaborate on those indoor games, he was correct in that the Saints will play 11 regular-season games in a dome next season. In addition to road games against the Atlanta Falcons, Las Vegas Raiders and Detroit Lions, they of course have their eight home games -- one of which might be circled as soon as the official schedule is released.

That one?

Against the 49ers.