The 49ers could go a dozen different ways in the secondary this offseason. Everyone agrees that the Niners will sign a cornerback during or before free agency—the question is who and how many?
Richard Sherman is an unrestricted free agent and believes his return to the Bay Area is “not looking likely.” Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, and K’Waun Williams are all also unrestricted free agents. Emmanuel Moseley signed a one-year, exclusive rights tender contract last summer. Moseley will be a restricted free agent. The 49ers could place a second-round tender on Moseley, and if no team signs Moseley, he’d be your lone cornerback with on-field experience on the depth chart heading into the NFL Draft.
San Francisco is likely to explore all of their options at every position, and cornerback will be one of the most pressing needs. PFF went through every team in the NFL, giving them one free agent to pursue and gave the 49ers a cornerback:
The 49ers are potentially losing their best two cornerbacks this offseason, with both Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett slated to be free agents. Even with Sherman and Verrett on the roster, they would be rolling the dice on getting them both for a full season in 2021. Plus, this is a team that still thinks — with a healthy quarterback — their Super Bowl window is open.
Xavier Rhodes isn’t a long-term answer, but he showed this year he can still be a top-flight cover guy when healthy. He allowed just 51.3% of passes thrown his way to be caught this season and had 10 pass breakups.
Bringing in a veteran should be a priority for the defense. If the 49ers believe they’re still in their “championship window,” relying on multiple young cornerbacks is a risky proposition that defenses rarely get away with.
In 2019, Rhodes looked like he was finished. There’s a reason the former All-Pro signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Colts last offseason. Rhodes looked like a linebacker in coverage. He was slow, often lost, and could rarely find or play the ball. Rhodes was tough to watch.
The Colts gave Rhodes—who turned 30 last June—a chance, and he did not disappoint. I reference “total points saved” from Sports Info Solutions as it gives us a ballpark of how valuable players were this past season to their relative peers. Rhode’s total points saved was 48. That puts him 14th among all cornerbacks in the NFL, and higher than James Bradberry, Denzel Ward, and Joe Haden—three players who played very well this year.
The Colts play a heavy zone scheme, but Rhodes had plenty of man-to-man responsibilities this past season. Sports Info Solutions completion percentage for Rhodes is 46%, which is noticeably lower than PFF’s. Rhodes allowed 7.0 yards per target—Jason Verrett allowed 6.5, for comparison—and Rhodes also had 13 pass breakups and two interceptions.
He was active in a good way. Rhodes finished tied for sixth in pass breakups. Rhodes only missed five tackles all season, but he also only had seven stops on the year. The average depth of tackle gives us an idea of which cornerbacks were aggressive at filling the run. Generally speaking, CBs with an average depth of tackle in the single-digits are more aggressive, and SIS’s data backs that up. Verrett, for example, had an ADOT of 8.0 yards. Rhodes’s ADOT was 13.3 yards.
If the 49ers were to sign Rhodes, the team runs the risk of him falling off the inevitable cliff once you reach 30-years-old. Rhodes overcame Father Time in 2020 and showed no signs of slowing down. If you sign Rhodes, are you getting the 2019 version or the 2020 version, which helped the Colts make the playoffs? That’s the gamble you’re taking.