Two years after signing Torrey Smith to a lucrative five-year free-agent contract, the 49ers are parting with the speedy wide receiver on the eve of free agency.
Smith, 28, had the two worst years of his career with the 49ers. Last season, he caught just 20 passes for 267 yards and missed the final four games because of a concussion.
Former NFL wide receiver Steve Smith, who works for the NFL Network, first reported Torrey Smith’s release on Twitter.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted it to but I’m thankful for the relationships I was able to build,” Torrey Smith posted on his Instagram account Monday. “I had a great time in the locker room with my teammates and equipment staff. I’d like to apologize to the fans because you didn’t get to see me at my best.”
Smith’s release came after the 49ers re-signed wide receiver Jeremy Kerley to a three-year deal. While Smith languished and anguished over quarterbacks misfiring on passes last season, Kerley had the finest year of his career, catching 64 passes for 667 yards and three touchdowns. Tackle Joe Staley, the team’s de facto offensive captain, praised Kerley’s deal.
Smith was to count nearly $9.5 million against the salary cap, the 49ers’ third-highest mark after Staley and linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The 49ers already had $90 million in salary cap space, second to Cleveland in the league.
A prolific deep threat for Baltimore’s Joe Flacco for four seasons, Smith signed a five-year contract worth as much as $40 million in 2015. It was the biggest free-agent deal ever granted by former general manager Trent Baalke.
When free agency begins Thursday, the 49ers are – again – expected to aggressively pursue wide receivers, including Los Angeles Rams free agent Kenny Britt, 28, who had the first 1,000-yard receiving season of his career in 2016, making 68 receptions for 1,002 yards.
Meanwhile, various reports have linked the 49ers to wide receivers Terrelle Pryor of Cleveland and Alshon Jeffery of Chicago. Cleveland.com said the 49ers, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Tennessee will be among the teams in the market for Pryor, 27, who converted from quarterback to receiver in 2015 and last season surpassed 1,000 receiving yards (1,007) on a team that, like the Rams, had a shaky quarterback situation.
The 49ers also are looking at Jeffery, two sources said, but perhaps not at the rate – $14 million to $15 million per season – he seeks on the open market. One source felt the 49ers would bow out before the bidding reached that point or the Bears would retain Jeffery at a lower rate.
Several other free-agent receivers could tempt the 49ers, especially Washington’s Pierre Garcon, who had his best season in 2013 (113 catches, 1,346 yards, five touchdowns) when 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was his offensive coordinator.
Smith’s release makes Kerley by far the 49ers’ most accomplished receiver with 246 career receptions. The other receivers currently signed for 2017 are Bruce Ellington, Aaron Burbridge, Chris Harper, DeAndre Smelter, DeAndre Carter, Rashad Ross and Eric Rogers, who is coming off an ACL tear. Of that group, Ellington leads with 19 career catches. Shanahan emphasized his desire to bolster the position, arguably the league’s worst last year.
“We’re going to add as many as we can to help our roster, and we also want to add some competition, because we feel the more competition we have in OTAs, the more competition you have in training camp,” he said at the scouting combine. “If you end up cutting some people at the end of training camp who you think can play in the NFL, then that shows that your organization’s going the right direction. That’s really our goal.”