The 49ers signed Wilhelm last year, in part, because he played for two seasons under Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky when both were with the San Diego Chargers and was familiar enough with the defense to be thrown into the lineup right away if need be. He played in 11 games, starting one, and had 11 tackles, plus another 12 on special teams.
At this point of his career, Wilhelm is strictly a depth and insurance guy. His signing should spur on Scott McKillop, last year's 5th round draft pick out of Pitt, to ratchet up his off-season workouts even more to prove he's a guy who can be counted on to play from scrimmage and expand his role beyond just special teams. Last year McKillop was clearly behind Wilhelm on the depth chart.
Also, Wilhelm's presence on the roster could be a sign that inside linebacker - and guys such as Alabama's Rolando McClain and Florida's Brandon Spikes - isn't a high priority for the team in the draft and that they're prepared to go another season with Takeo Spikes starting next to Patrick Willis.
Obviously, nothing is set in stone. Since Wilhelm only signed a one-year deal, nothing is guaranteed for him, not even a spot on this season's 53 man roster. More than anything, this move shows us that the voices that count in the organization were pleased with what Wilhelm showed them in 2009 and - perhaps more importantly - they don't think much of the free agent class at his position.
Also, 49ers fans, be sure to join me to chat about free agency, the draft, and whatever else strikes your fancy next Thursday, March 11th, at 7 p.m. Pacific time (10 p.m. Eastern).