Smith provides 49ers flexibility in draft

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' agreement with Marvel Smith and release of Jonas Jennings shouldn't stop them from drafting a tackle in the first round if one of the top prospects slips to them.

Smith is a good player when healthy, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy. The 49ers therefore cannot bank on having solved their tackle situation. Jennings has started 18 games over the last three seasons. Smith has started 17 over the last two.

If one of the top tackles were available to them in the draft, the 49ers could set up themselves for the long term by drafting him. And if they were really fortunate, the draft prospect would be good enough at left tackle for Joe Staley to play the right side, down the road if not in 2009.

The Smith signing simply makes it easier for the 49ers to go in another direction at No. 10 if one of the top tackles isn't available. And that is what free agency is about: Filling needs with known quantities so a team doesn't reach for needs in the draft.