Malcolm Smith gives 49ers much-needed linebacker help

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' roster makeover didn't slow down at all Wednesday as the team added to an already busy day by coming to an agreement with linebacker Malcolm Smith on a contract.

In an eventful day that saw the Niners add receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and quarterback Brian Hoyer, they didn't forget about the defense. Smith joins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, who signed with San Francisco a couple of weeks ago after the Miami Dolphins released him, as new additions to coordinator Robert Saleh's defense.

Terms: Five years, $26.5 million, $13 million guaranteed

ESPN 150 ranking: No. 110

Grade: C-minus. The 49ers undoubtedly need help at linebacker, one of the thinnest positions on the roster after it was depleted by injuries in 2016. In Smith, they aren't getting a game-changing player who will make a lot of splash plays, but they are getting a solid, versatile type who can help the transition to Saleh's 4-3 scheme. Smith worked with Saleh when the latter was a Seattle Seahawks defensive assistant from 2011 to 2013. This isn't a back-breaking contract for the 49ers by any means, but it's still a sizable chunk for an average player.

What it means: For starters, it means new coach Kyle Shanahan didn't forget about the defense after a run on offensive additions. While the offense certainly needed the attention, the team's defensive woes were just as glaring last season, especially against the run. Adding Mitchell was a start and Smith should also be a net gain in preventing the 49ers from duplicating their historically bad run defense in 2017. Over the past two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII had 225 tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions. Smith has experience playing outside linebacker and figures to compete with Ray-Ray Armstrong for the weak side linebacker job. As a bonus, Smith can play inside in the event that NaVorro Bowman's recovery from an Achilles injury has any hiccups. It also could be a sign that unrestricted free agent linebacker Gerald Hodges won't be returning to San Francisco.

What's the risk: Smith's production dipped a bit from 2015 to 2016 and he doesn't provide much in the way of big plays. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus graded Smith about league average in stopping the run but didn't think much of him in coverage. If the 49ers can have better injury luck at linebacker than they did a season ago (they'd almost have to), Smith should be a helpful piece. But if they end up in a position where they lean on him to lead the linebacker corps, it probably won't bode well for defensive improvement in 2017.