SANTA CLARA – The 49ers released veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith on Tuesday, which signals a vote of confidence for rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw.
Smith, 30, was one of the defensive centerpieces of the first day of 2017 free agency when the 49ers signed him to a five year, $26.5 million contract. However, Smith missed the entire 2017 season with a torn pectoral. He appeared in 12 games last season, including five starts.
The 49ers signed wide receiver Nick Willams to fill the roster spot ahead of the team's final preseason game on Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers. Williams entered the NFL in 2013 as an undrafted rookie with Washington, where 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator. He also spent time with Atlanta, Tennessee, the Los Angeles Rams and Denver, appearing in 26 games and catching 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
The 49ers restructured Smith’s contract in the offseason. The club does not have to pay him his scheduled $1.25 million base salary. Smith, an eight-year NFL veteran, is now free to sign with any NFL team.
Smith played his first four seasons with the Seattle, where he was named MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII following the Seahawks’ 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos. He played two seasons with the Raiders before signing as a free agent with the 49ers.
The decision to release Smith before the 49ers’ final preseason game appears to signal that Greenlaw is in line to start, along with linebackers Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander. Greenlaw, a fifth-round draft pick, was impressive in training camp and during the exhibition season.