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Do the 49ers need a safety in free agency?

We review the 49ers’ safety position from 2017. Do they need to upgrade or re-sign Eric Reid?

Before the start of the NFL free agency period, we’re going to look at various positions on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster to determine a few things. The first is whether or not the position improved from 2016 to 2017. The second is to see if free agency is a viable option to improve the position — if it’s even needed.

Season in review

The 49ers’ safety position is seriously a weird one. They have so much going on and so much to keep track of. Suffice to say this: the 49ers really like Jaquiski Tartt, who began the season as the backup strong safety. They eventually elevated him to a starting spot after he filled in for an injured Reid and moved Reid over to free safety when Jimmie Ward got injured.

When Adrian Colbert, a seventh-round rookie, entered the picture while one of the ... eight hundred safeties was injured, Colbert played incredibly. Ward was also playing extremely well before he was injured. Reid, who was also playing well, was moved to linebacker to get more safeties on the field.

Reid eventually moved back to safety with injuries to Tartt and Colbert, and the 49ers ended up dipping deep into their reserves with all the injuries.

Reid still played more snaps than any other safety by a healthy margin. He played 736 defensive snaps, or 65.42 percent of them. Tartt was next with 595 (52.89 percent) snaps. Colbert was surprisingly close to him, with 530 (47.11 percent) snaps. Then it’s Ward, with 429 snaps in just seven games played, or 38.13 percent of defensive snaps.

I don’t know where the 49ers go from here. I feel like talking about moving Ward to cornerback is silly, and I also feel like Tartt is locked in as the starting strong safety. At the same time, Reid is undoubtedly one of the 11 best defenders on the team, and should be re-signed, in my opinion. I imagine such a deal is unlikely, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised with a starting lineup of Colbert and Tartt, with Ward departing in 2019.

Here’s a look at the way the position changed from 2016 to 2017:

2016 Week 17: Antoine Bethea, Jaquiski Tartt, Marcus Cromartie, Vinnie Sunseri, Marcus Ball, Eric Reid (IR)
2017 Week 1: Jimmie Ward, Eric Reid, Jaquiski Tartt, Lorenzo Jerome, Adrian Colbert
Current: Adrian Colbert, Jaquiski Tartt, Eric Reid (FA), Jimmie Ward (IR), Dexter McCoil, Chanceller James, Antone Exum Jr., Tyvis Powell

The market for safeties

We’re going to take a deeper look at the various positions and free agents available in a separate series. For now, here’s a quick and dirty list of the top safeties set to hit the open market.

SS Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers
FS Reggie Nelson, Oakland Raiders
SS T.J. Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
SS Tyvon Branch, Arizona Cardinals
SS Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers
FS Nate Allen, Miami Dolphins
FS Darius Butler, Indianapolis Colts
SS Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints
SS Marcus Gilchrist, Houston Texans
FS Michael Thomas, Miami Dolphins
SS Kemal Ishmael, Atlanta Falcons