Malcolm Smith

Examining 49ers' scheduled free agents and other roster decisions

Examining 49ers' scheduled free agents and other roster decisions

The 49ers will be armed with nearly $70 million in salary-cap space when the NFL free-agent signing period opens next week.

Most of the 49ers’ focus will likely be on signing new players at positions of need. But the 49ers also have unsettled business with some of their own players.

Here’s a look at their players who are scheduled for free agency, as well as some of the moves the 49ers have already made with players who finished last season on their roster:

Unrestricted free agents

Beginning Monday, the agents for the following unrestricted free agents are allowed to enter into negotiations with the other teams. Up to that point, the 49ers hold sole negotiating rights with those players. Players can officially begin signing with new teams on Wednesday at 1 p.m.

DB Jimmie Ward: He might be their best defensive back, period. He might be their best safety, and he might even be their best cornerback at this stage. The club rated Ward as playing better than anyone in the 49ers’ secondary, according to a team source, before he sustained a fractured forearm in late-November.

The problem with Ward has been his ability to remain healthy. Four of his five NFL seasons have ended with him going on injured reserve with fractures of his foot, collarbone, and back-to-back broken forearms. The 49ers want to bring him back, but they are also cautious because of his injury history.

The 49ers have a one-year offer ready, but if another team comes in with a multi-year deal, he will likely be playing elsewhere next season.

P Bradley Pinion: He turns 25 in June and his best days are clearly ahead of him. The 49ers believed for most of the offseason that they would be able to sign Pinion to an extension. But, at this stage, he appears destined to hit the open market and gauge his value.

Pinion, a fifth-round draft pick in 2015, had a very good third season. But his stats took a step backward last season as the level of return men he faced became vastly more challenging. The 49ers faced five of the NFL’s top six in punt return yards.

He was tied for 24th with a net average of 39.1 yards. Net average is the most meaningful stat for a punter, and it was the lowest of his four-year career. Pinion ranked tied for 10th in the league in 2017 with a 41.3 net average. He also has value to the 49ers as a holder on all of Gould’s kicks as well as handling kickoff chores.

RB Alfred Morris: The veteran running back, whom the 49ers signed during training camp as an insurance policy, saved his best for last. After injuries to Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Morris entered the final game of the season and rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown against the L.A. Rams. Morris did what the 49ers asked of him. But with each of the aforementioned younger, faster backs returning this year, the 49ers do not have a need to re-sign Morris at this time.

OLB Mark Nzeocha: He was the 49ers’ primary strongside linebacker after the club traded Eli Harold before the start of the season. He started three games and was a two-down player against base personnel. Nzeocha was also one of the team’s core special-teams players. The 49ers will look at all options to improve at this spot.

S Antone Exum: He ended with a significant role in the 49ers’ secondary due to the number of injuries at the safety position. Exum started seven games. The 49ers had an NFL-record-low two interceptions, and Exum had one of them. He returned Philip Rivers’ second attempt of the Week 4 game to the house for a touchdown against the L.A. Chargers. The 49ers could bring him back later in the offseason for depth.

LS Kyle Nelson: He must sit out the first six games of this season after serving four games of a 10-game suspension for a second violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The 49ers signed Colin Holba to take over Nelson’s duties for the final four games last season.

Veteran options

The 49ers on Thursday announced they had exercised the options for fullback Kyle Juszczyk, defensive end Cassius Marsh, linebacker Dekoda Watson and nickel back K’Waun Williams. Two other veterans are not expected back with the club this season (the club could re-sign them later at a significantly lower price).

WR Pierre Garçon: He was the team’s best receiver through half of the season in 2017 – and was on his way to a 1,000-yard season -- before sustaining a season-ending neck injury.

His play dropped off dramatically last season, and the 49ers decided not to pick up his option of $6 million in salary and bonuses for the upcoming season. Instead of his scheduled salary cap figure of $8.275 million, he will count $7.2 million in dead money.

NT Earl Mitchell: The 49ers liked the job Mitchell did for them over the past two years. He is a pro’s pro. But it is time, the club determined, to see what D.J. Jones can do as the starter.

The 49ers confirmed in January they would not pick up the option that would have paid him $3.7 million in salary and bonuses. The 49ers have not officially declined the option, however, as they still have hope of trading him before the start of the new league year.

Franchise player

The 49ers exercised their option to use the franchise tag for the first time since 2012, when they kept around safety Dashon Goldson under the franchise designation.

K Robbie Gould: The 49ers were never going to let Gould test the free-agent market because of his value to the team. Since signing with the 49ers on the first day of free agency in 2017, Gould has made 72 of his 75 field-goal attempts with the 49ers.

Gould wanted to be able to test the free-agent market and gauge whether a return to Chicago made sense for both sides. But the 49ers, effectively, locked him up for one season for $4.971 million. He made $4 million on his original two-year deal with the 49ers.

New contracts

The 49ers held contract talks with several of their own scheduled free agents in hopes of preventing them from reaching the open market. They were successful with only one, as the 49ers no longer have an urgent need to fill at right guard.

G Mike Person: Person, an eight-year veteran, came to the 49ers a year ago on an under-the-radar one-year deal. He ended up starting all 16 games to earn a three-year, $9 million contract extension. Person is the likely starter, but the 49ers have not ruled out Joshua Garnett competing for the job. The 49ers no longer have an urgent need to add an interior lineman in free agency or the draft.

LB Malcolm Smith: His future with the club was in serious question after two injury-plagued seasons. But Smith and the 49ers came to terms on a contract restructure to reduce his pay dramatically for the 2019 season, a league source told NBC Sports Bay Area.

He will be back to participate in the offseason program, but the 49ers will still likely try to add a starter-caliber player in free agency or the draft as insurance. After all, Smith has appeared in just 12 games in two seasons with five starts.

Tendered

The 49ers made qualifying offers to their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents. A restricted free agent -- a player with three years of NFL service -- is allowed to negotiate contracts with other teams, but the 49ers have the ability to match. An exclusive rights free agent, a player with one or two accrued NFL seasons has no outside negotiating power.

RB Raheem Mostert (restricted): The 49ers engaged in talks with Mostert’s agent with the goal of signing him to a multi-year extension. But the sides did not reach an agreement. As it now stands, Mostert is scheduled to play one season at the low tender of $2.025 million and become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

Mostert can still sign an offer sheet with another team before April 19, and the 49ers would have the right of first refusal. If they declined to match, the 49ers would receive no compensation.

LB Elijah Lee (exclusive rights): Lee showed some promise while starting five games late in the season after Reuben Foster was released following an alleged altercation with his ex-girlfriend at the team hotel on a road trip to Tampa. In limited playing time, Lee still managed to finish third on the 49ers with 62 tackles. He will be back to compete for a role this season.

[RELATED: Lee, Warner look like keepers on defense]

CB Greg Mabin (exclusive rights): He appeared in 13 games with one start for the 49ers last season. Mabin will be in a battle to earn his spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster, as the club will look to upgrade the competition for backup jobs this year.

Released

T Garry Gilliam: The 49ers released Gilliam last month. Gilliam served as the team’s backup at both tackle spots over the past two seasons. Shon Coleman, whom the 49ers acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns last year, appears to be the favorite for the role of backup to Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey this season.

Source: 49ers, Malcolm Smith restructure deal to keep him on team

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USATSI

Source: 49ers, Malcolm Smith restructure deal to keep him on team

The 49ers have come to terms on a deal to restructure veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith’s contract, a league source told NBC Sports Bay Area on Friday.

The agreement, first reported by the NFL Network, reduces Smith's pay for the upcoming season. His status on the 49ers' roster was in question due to the size of his contract and the two injury-plagued seasons since signing with the 49ers.

The organization had high hopes for Smith, but he has started just five games in two years. Smith was among the first free-agent signings of John Lynch’s tenure as the 49ers' general manager. His five-year, $26.2 million contract was also one of the biggest of the team's 2017 offseason. Smith is scheduled to make $4 million in salary and bonuses in 2019 with a cap hit of just over $5.4 million.

However, things have not gone according to plan for Smith and the 49ers. He spent his entire first season with the team on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. He played in 12 games in 2018, but was used only sparingly due to a nagging Achilles injury. He turns 30 in July.

[RELATED: Raheem Mostert plans to return on one-year restricted tender]

Coach Kyle Shanahan spoke about the undetermined status of Smith while at the NFL Scouting Combine last week in Indianapolis.

“He’s still not fully healthy yet, so we are waiting to figure that out,” Shanahan said. “We need to get him in to find that out. Yeah, we do have a decision to make with Malcolm. He battled a lot of stuff last year, came into camp hurt and never healed.

“Really hoping that we can get some answers on that over the next month or so, which can help us make a better decision.”

Matt Maiocco contributed to this report.

49ers have moved on from Pierre Garçon, must decide on Malcolm Smith

49ers have moved on from Pierre Garçon, must decide on Malcolm Smith

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 49ers have moved on from veteran wide receiver Pierre Garçon, but they have yet to make a decision on linebacker Malcolm Smith.

“He’s still not fully healthy yet, so we are waiting to figure that out,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We need to get him in to find that out. Yeah, we do have a decision to make with Malcolm. He battled a lot of stuff last year, came into camp hurt and never healed.

“Really hoping that we can get some answers on that over the next month or so, which can help us make a better decision.” 

The two veterans were the biggest signings of the 49ers' first free agency under Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. They haven’t been the most successful. 

San Francisco did not pick up Garçon’s third-year option after he played in just 16 games in two seasons with the 49ers. He recorded 64 receptions for 786 yards and one touchdown. 

Despite Garçon's injuries and unremarkable production, Shanahan said the receiver still was an important signing for him and Lynch. 

“We didn’t have one receiver on our roster [from when] we got here to what we took into the season,” Shanahan said. “We knew we had to go get a veteran out there. P came in and did a great job for us for about the first six games or seven or whatever it was. 

“Then he hurt his neck the first year end, then had knee complications all last year. It was unfortunate for him and us how it worked out. Love the guy, respect him as much as any player I’ve ever coached. Hopefully he will be healthier this year for somewhere else, or if it didn’t work out, to possibly come back to us.”

[RELATED: Shanahan says Jimmy G ahead of schedule in ACL rehab]

Smith’s contract, on the other hand, does not have a team option until 2020, so the team will have to decide whether to cut him or not.

Smith spent all of 2017 on injured reserve after he tore his pectoral muscle during the offseason. Last year, he dealt with a nagging Achilles injury that limited him to sporadic playing time in 12 games this season. 

The team will be evaluating most positions in the draft, and an inside linebacker to play alongside Fred Warner likely will end up being a need.