The San Francisco 49ers selected cornerback Will Redmond with their third round pick on Friday. He is on the smaller side, and would be expected to play some nickel coming out of the gates. Two years ago, they spent a first round pick on defensive back Jimmie Ward. He played safety in college, but has played nickel back in the NFL. Three years ago, the 49ers spent a first round pick on Eric Reid. He has been their starting free safety, and the team has until Monday to pick up his fifth year option.
All of these things could be related.
On Friday evening, general manager Trent Baalke met with the media and was asked about Redmond's skillset. Baalke said he could play inside and outside, but would probably start with nickel work. Someone then asked if this was mostly a BPA pick since they already have Jimmie Ward at nickel back. Here was Baalke's response (emphasis mine):
"Well, you can never have enough cover guys. As we know, in this game, 67-percent of what you do in this league is nickel and dime. And to get a young man that can come in here and compete, he can play outside and he can play inside. Jimmie does move down in the nickel and in the dime stuff too. So, there's going to be competition around and Jimmie's making the transition as well back to the back half at the safety position. So, the versatility of Jimmie to go along with the versatility of this young man and the versatility of the group, we got a lot of young players on that side that finally got some playing experience last year and I would look for that group to step up and really make that second-year jump for a lot of those guys, both as far as strength, knowledge of the game and just the understanding of NFL football."
That safety comment has people talking. The 49ers currently have Eric Reid at free safety, and Antoine Bethea and Jaquiski Tartt at strong safety. There is already a question of what will happen with Bethea and Tartt. Add in Ward moving back there, and it raises even more questions.
For the time being, having Ward able to play nickel back and safety adds always useful versatility. However, if he eventually transitions full-time to free safety, what happens with Eric Reid. One person on Twitter suggested Reid could move to strong safety and Tartt could move to inside linebacker. Tartt is listed at 221 pounds, so he is undersized for the position based on that. But it is possible he could add 15 or 20 pounds and move down. There's been no real public discussion of it, but it could be in the cards.
Of course, the other side of this is the team is prepared to move on from Eric Reid. I would expect the team to pick up his option by Monday, but who really knows what this team will do. Trent Baalke said earlier this offseason that the two sides were discussing a contract extension. The 49ers have the cap space to do that kind of deal. But maybe, just maybe, they're prepared to move on from Reid. Considering Redmond is coming off a torn ACL, I would be surprised to see the 49ers not pick up the option and roll the dice in 2017. But anything is possible in the NFL