The San Francisco 49ers surprised most of us Tuesday afternoon when they made a last second deal to trade second-year cornerback Rashard Robinson to the New York Jets for a fifth round pick. The 2016 fourth round pick entered the season as the presumptive No. 1 cornerback, but struggled throughout this season, particularly with penalties. That being said, depth issues and general talent issues made me think he’d at least make it through the season.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan addressed the trade on Wednesday. He sees talent in Robinson, but the organization felt a fifth round pick was something they could not pass up.
“It was something that happened late yesterday. It was an opportunity that presented itself, we weren’t sure that it would. It wasn’t an easy decision. I think Rashard does have some upside to play like I told you guys before. He did struggle throughout this year. I do think he still has a chance to rebound and have a very good career. But that was just a tough decision we had to make. When we had the opportunity to get a 5th round pick, especially us going into the draft not having one, that was just something we felt we couldn’t pass up. Draft picks are important to us, and we’d like to accumulate as many as we can. It was a decision that wasn’t easy, but one that we talked about for a while, and we agreed on would be best for our team.”
Shanahan said the decision was made easier with Ahkello Witherspoon’s improved play. After struggling in training camp, Witherspoon started to improve in practice during the regular season. He was inactive the first four weeks, but got his first opportunity in Week 5. He worked his way into the mix for three weeks, and then took over the starting job in Week 8.
“That definitely makes it a lot easier. Witherspoon, we started him last week, thought he played well. Hoping he gets better as this goes. That he was starting definitely makes this easier, but there’s still a depth issue there. But I’m worried about depth at all positions, not just that position. Depth’s an issue everywhere this time of year. And that’s just something, a risk you have to take if you want to focus on the future.”
The 49ers will go into Sunday’s game with Witherspoon starting opposite Dontae Johnson. K’Waun Williams will be the nickel back if healthy, with Leon Hall as the primary backup cornerback. Witherspoon is signed through 2020 on his rookie contract, and Williams signed a three-year extension this year that could keep him with the 49ers through 2020 as well.
Johnson is a free agent after this season, and the 49ers have to decide if he brings enough to continue pairing with Witherspoon. The 49ers could decide to invest a high draft pick or big cap space in a potential No. 1 cornerback, or they could invest more heavily in the pass rush and try and extend Johnson. Most position groups will be interesting to track this offseason, and cornerback is plenty high on that list, particularly with Rashard Robinson now out of the picture.