On Friday, Oakland Raiders cornerback Sean Smith briefly touched on why he didn't sign with the San Francisco 49ers. He didn't actually have much to say, only mentioning Chip Kelly and the number of snaps for cornerbacks in his defense.
While we didn't learn much from Smith, it was probably a sore subject for many 49ers fans. Smith was the top cornerback on the market and the 49ers have had a need at cornerback for a few seasons now. Folks were talking positively about Smith quite a lot prior to the start of the season and it's easy to see why.
He's an above-average starter with plenty of ceiling above him to grow into one of the league's elite players. He signed a very reasonable deal with the Raiders, which probably also hurt for some folks. But one thing I think is worth noting is the fact that the 49ers, as a team that will not be competitive in the division or in the playoff race next season, still have several young cornerbacks they need to evaluate further.
Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker are young and promising players, and then there is Jimmie Ward who really came into his own at the end of last season. Tramaine Brock isn't perfect and the 49ers could stand to upgrade him, but I'd call him average at worst.
Johnson has been inconsistent, maddeningly so, but I'm interested to see how he performs in a new scheme. I felt strongly that the 49ers misused him over the past two seasons and I have high hopes for him going forward. I didn't buy into the Acker hype and plan on doing a deep dive on some of his plays in the coming days, but I cannot deny he actually did exceed my expectations.
The 49ers need to figure out if any of these guys will sink or if they'll swim. On top of that, I'm hoping Ward is given a big vote of confidence right off the bat and is thrown into the deep end. I want to see if what we saw at the end of last season was just a flash in the pan or if he is the real deal, finally.
And if the 49ers brought in someone like Smith ... there's less room to see if there is something special here. The 49ers aren't competing next season. That doesn't mean they should put off improving the team, but it's at least worth noting that it's not the end of the world that they didn't wind up with a new starting cornerback in free agency.