The San Francisco 49ers have decisions to make with regard to their two starting cornerbacks from 2014, and one might be made for them. NBC Washington's Dianna Russini is reporting Chris Culliver has been graded high on many teams, and we should expect him to get a big time deal.
This report comes a week after Pro Football Talk reported something similar, albeit a little more vague. PFT reported that Combine buzz had Culliver as one of the more sought after cornerbacks. They ranked him No. 45 on their list of free agents, and were under the impression they probably should have had him higher on their list.
Perrish Cox had the stronger start to the season, securing three interceptions in the first five weeks. Culliver finished the season with four interceptions, including two in the final two weeks. While Cox had the high profile start, it seems likely that Culliver is going to end up with the bigger contract. While I would love to see Culliver back in 2015, I just don't see it happening. The 49ers would clear pretty serious cap space with the potential departure of Stevie Johnson, but I think we see the team continue with young options.
Tramaine Brock and Dontae Johnson would slot in as the starters if Culliver and Cox depart in free agency. Would the 49ers then go with a high round cornerback? Some mocks think so, but Trent Baalke's history does not indicate as much. The third round pick the team spent on Culliver in 2011 was the highest they spent on a pure cornerback (he converted from safety, but was always expected to play cornerback) since a third on Reggie Smith in 2008, and a second on Shawntae Spencer in 2004.
The 49ers did use a first round pick last season on Jimmie Ward. While he spent the whole season in the nickel back role, he seems likely to eventually become a safety when the team transitions away from Antoine Bethea. That is not a certainty, but it seems fairly likely. What does not seem likely is a first round cornerback. I don't know if guys like Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser and Leon McFadden will emerge as options this summer, but I don't see the 49ers investing a premium in the position.