The 2013 season is a wrap for the San Francisco 49ers, but before we take the deep dive into free agency and look ahead to 2014, we're going to take an initial look at that season that was for each position group. We last analyzed the offensive line, which finished up our evaluation of the offense. Today, we kick off our review of the defensive side of the ball with the cornerback position.
Despite depth being significantly tested, the 49ers enjoyed a very solid season from their cornerbacks this year. Not only did they have success, but injuries opened the door for key figures to emerge and make names for themselves. There will undoubtedly be some shifting at the position during the offseason. With a number of contracts expiring or reaching unaffordable heights, the 49ers will have to make several decisions this offseason.
Tarell Brown - 13 games, 32 tackles, 10 passes defended, 0 INTs, 0 sacks | PFF: 4.4 overall, 1.0 pass cov., 3.4 penalty | WHEN IN COVERAGE: 472 snaps, 73 targets, 42 receptions, 522 yards, 3 TD, 11.2 coverage snaps per reception given up
The seven-year veteran turned in another solid season as starter for San Francisco. Before the season even began, though, Brown's contract issues became highly publicized when the cornerback, unaware of a stipulation, missed out on a $2 million dollar escalator for missing the offseason program. While it received plenty of media attention, Brown never made it a distraction and the 49ers made it known that they were looking to do right by him.
Unless there are a lot of turnovers, the less you hear a cornerback's name during the broadcast, the better he's doing. This was often the case with Brown this season. Minus a few gaffes that all secondary players experience from time to time, the 49ers' starting cornerback had a quiet, solid season. With no interceptions or turnovers forced, it was rare to hear Brown's name. His 11.2 coverage snaps per reception given up rank him 25th in the league in that category, the highest of all 49ers starting cornerbacks. A serious rib injury suffered in New Orleans forced Brown to miss approximately one month of action from late November to late December. In his stead, Tramaine Brock continued to make a name for himself.
As far as 2014 goes, pure conjecture tells me Brown would like to return to the 49ers. He's never expressed discontent and the Bay Area has been his only home as an NFL player. Like everything else, it comes down to the dough and what Brown yields on the open market. The 49ers are in no position to over pay and, thus, don't budge on player valuations. Although Brown has been a successful starter for the 49ers, he lacks big name recognition. That may work in the 49ers favor and enable them to retain Brown at a reasonable price. While franchising him is an option, it's doubtful the 49ers would pull the trigger on that. As a cornerback, Brown's number would be very high and that clashes with the 49ers' philosophy to spread wealth.
2014 status: Unrestricted free agent
Tramaine Brock - 16 games, 37 tackles, 15 passes defended, 5 INTs, 1 TD | PFF: 9.0 overall, 8.2 pass cov., 1.9 penalty | WHEN IN COVERAGE: 457 snaps, 83 targets, 46 receptions, 668 yards, 5 TDs, 9.9 coverage snaps per reception
Brock had a breakout season, receiving the most action of his career and beefing up the 49ers secondary in the process. The 2010 undrafted free agent greatly improved his biggest weakness (pass coverage) and consistently made game-changing plays. The pick six against Houston in Week 5 and the unforgettable tipped pass to spring NaVorro Bowman's pick six in the Candlestick finale against Atlanta are among some of his best highlights.
Beyond the highlight reel, Brock consistently made key plays and broke up passes when the 49ers needed him to. In fact, he defended a pass in every regular season game this year except for two (the 49ers' first meeting with Arizona and the Monday Night game in Washington). No longer a liability, the 49ers organization and fans alike loved what they saw this past season; the sky is the limit for this young corner.
With that said, 2013 resulted in a big pay day for the former Belhaven College Blazer as the 49ers signed Brock to a four-year $16 million extension in late November, keeping him in red and gold through 2017. His breakout performance has firmly entrenched Brock as a starter next season and down the road for the 49ers. Kudos to Baalke and the front office for seizing the opportunity to extend him at a good price.
2014 status: Signed through 2017 | Base: $800,000; Cap: $2,000,000
Carlos Rogers - 16 games, 47 tackles, 8 passes defended, 2 INTs | PFF: -3.0 overall, -6.8 pass cov., 4.6 penalty | WHEN IN COVERAGE: 622 snaps, 93 targets, 57 receptions, 684 yards, 2 TDs, 10.9 coverage snaps per reception | IN THE SLOT: 11.6 coverage snaps per reception
Rogers has had the best seasons of his career as a 49er, but the sun is setting on this blissful marriage. All in all, 2013 was a pretty good season from Rogers but it appears the diminished speed that comes with age is impacting the 33-year old cornerback. Still, Rogers was solid in the slot, ranking 2nd in the league with 11.6 coverage snaps per reception in that role. On the outside, however, Rogers showed his age in trailing behind faster wideouts.
With plenty of young talent behind him and the need for money to be spent elsewhere, Rogers will be cut loose this offseason. That's just the cold business side of the NFL. There is a remote chance Rogers returns in a backup role (or, even more remote yet, as a safety?) if he can't find another home and is brought back for a one-year deal on the cheap, but I don't know if the 49ers would have a roster spot to they'd be willing to expend.
2014 status: Signed through 2015 | Base: $6,250,000; Cap: $8,094,531
Chris Culliver - Spent 2013 on Injured Reserve
Culliver was entering a highly anticipated third season. An immediate contributor as a rookie in 2011, Culliver followed it up with another solid 2012 season (with the exception of some poor plays in the Super Bowl). His entire 2013 season was lost to an ACL injury in preseason but those injuries are not what they used to be, and Culliver has had ample time to recuperate.
At 25 years old, he likely figures prominently into the 49ers future plans at cornerback, however, the team has to decide whether to extend him now or allow him to play out his final year. There's merits to both. Extending now enable the 49ers to get him for a cheaper price, should he turn in a solid season. On the other side of the coin, the 49ers may want to see how he performs post-injury before making a long-term financial commitment.
As far as 2014 goes, Tramaine Brock has established himself as a starter and Brown looks like he will return. If that's the case, Culliver will feature as the team's nickel corner.
2014 status: Signed through 2014 | Base: $1,389,000; Cap: $1,538,719
Perrish Cox - 9 games with SF (2 with SEA), 5 tackles | PFF: -0.5 overall, -0.6 pass cov., 0.4 penalty
Cox was let go during the 2013 season, only to return during the postseason when injury struck the 49ers. He spent time on the Seahawks in between stints in San Francisco, rounding out Seattle's roster during Walter Thurmond's two-game suspension.
Upon his return to San Francisco during the playoffs, Cox played well as the team's nickel corner, registering four total tackles and defending a pass in both the Green Bay and Carolina games. He also made an impact on special teams when his number was called, returning three kickoffs for 82 yards during the season.
His performance during the postseason, his familiarity with the defense, and his value as a special teams player could warrant giving him a modest deal. I could see him coming back to San Francisco (even if it's only another one-year deal) just as easily as I could see the 49ers parting ways with him. They clearly only needed him when injury dictated this past season so if the team re-ups other players and signs or drafts a couple new faces, it will mean the end for Cox as a Niner.
2014 status: Restricted free agent
Eric Wright - 7 games, 7 tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 INT | PFF: 1.9 overall, 1.5 pass cov., 0.5 penalty
Wright didn't see too much action in 2013. After being traded from Tampa Bay to San Francisco for a conditional draft pick, Wright failed his physical and voided the trade. He eventually ended up signing with the 49ers but began the season on the non-football injury list. He was activated in November but sparsely saw the field. Wright's most memorable performance was in the 49ers victory over Seattle in early December, where he defended two passes and picked off Russell Wilson's hail mary to clinch a 49er victory in the waning seconds of the game.
Rumors surfaced that the 49ers were unhappy with the much-maligned cornerback's preparation late in the season, which likely explains why Perrish Cox was tapped as the team's nickel cornerback against Green Bay and Carolina.This notion also aligns with Wright being a healthy scratch against Seattle. With minimal playing time and purported character questions still surrounding him, Wright hasn't improved his reputation or changed perceptions.
ESPN's Bill Williamson notes that while Wright could return at the veteran minimum, he doesn't see that happening. I don't either. It appears very unlikely that Wright comes back under any circumstances. Harbaugh and co. are sticklers when it comes to work ethic and character so if rumors about his preparation are true, the team will look to part ways quickly.
2014 status: Unrestricted free agent
Darryl Morris - 13 games, 6 tackles | PFF: 1.9 overall, 1.5 pass cov., 0.5 penalty
The undrafted rookie from Texas State signed a three-year deal with the 49ers. He was released at the end of training camp, but immediately signed to the practice squad. He was promoted to the 53-man roster during Week 4. As a lightning-quick special teams contributor (remember this blast to seal the game against Tennessee in October?) and promising prospect at cornerback, the 49ers have to love his talent and upside. With such limited time on the field, Morris represents an unknown commodity at this time. But his promotion from the practice squad and role on special teams indicates the coaching staff likes what it has seen thus far.
I fully anticipate he makes the roster and stands a good chance to climb up the depth chart in his sophomore season.
2014 status: Signed through 2015 | Base/Cap: $495,000
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