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49ers mailbag, secondary edition: Will there be enough money to add a safety in free agency?

Asking all of your secondary questions in today’s mailbag

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

We haven’t done a mailbag in a while so let’s bring that idea back. This time around, and for the next few editions, I wanted to make it position specific to avoid having the same topics each time.

Today, we’ll focus on the 49ers’ secondary, from unrestricted free agents to possible NFL Draft prospects.

What do we do if K’Waun Williams doesn’t return? Jamar Taylor played very well this season. Do we continue to use him? - Dumbo

Williams is from New Jersey. Robert Saleh coaches in New Jersey. The Jets have more money to offer. You know where I’m going with this.

Taylor tore his ACL on November 29. Counting on him to start Week 1 or be available for training camp feels like a longshot. I doubt Taylor would factor into the team’s plans moving forward.

Adding a nickel cornerback like Brian Poole would be a nice consolation after losing Williams. Bengals cornerback Mackensie Alexander is another option that wouldn’t cost as much, but you’d get 80% of the production. If San Francisco wanted to go the NFL Draft route, Washington’s Elijah Molden could be available at the end of the third round and could be a steal at cornerback.

Do you trust Witherspoon enough to re-sign? Only started playing at anything like a decent level at contract time and question marks about mentality and toughness. - JB6

I don’t want to second-guess or question anyone for their toughness. We can’t know what’s going on behind the scenes as far as dealing with injuries, the politics that come with football, or whatever else that we don’t know about.

I’d love to have Witherspoon back and wouldn’t mind him competing for a starting spot one bit. He played about as well as you could ask for a cornerback that’s been benched twice in the past two seasons. If anything, we should commend Witherspoon for his mental toughness.

The question is whether Ahkello would want to come back. Why would he? The odds Witherspoon would have to sign a veteran minimum type of deal wherever he goes is high. If I were him, I’d find a team that gives me the best opportunity to start while getting a fresh start at the same time.

If they don’t draft a QB in the first round, do you think it’s pretty much a lock the 49ers will draft a corner? - Jeffrey

I don’t want to say it’s a lock because there are always three or four players that qualify as “best player available,” and if they fall, you have to draft them because of their talent. We also have to see if the team invests in a cornerback during free agency, whether that’s Jason Verrett, Witherspoon, Williams, or someone who is outside of the building.

If not, then that answers your question. I doubt San Francisco would go through the first week of free agency without signing a cornerback. Let’s say they only add depth pieces. If that’s the case, then one of the first three picks has to be a cornerback, right? You’d think so.

The best value might be in the second round, where the 49ers could draft South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn or Georgia’s Tyson Campbell. I’m a big fan of both of those players and believe they’ll be quality NFL starters. Horn reminds me of Janoris Jenkins, while Campbell has a lot of Marlon Humphrey in him.

Which of the two highest-rated CBs in the draft, Surtain or Farley, would be the best match for the 49ers? - Bob

Both are great and will be high-level starters in the NFL. Surtain is the more technically sound cornerback, while Farley is the prospect every year that has “all of the tools to be great” but needs to be molded.

Surtain reminds me of James Bradberry, who had an argument to be on the All-Pro team’s this past season. Surtain does his job. It’s difficult to find faults in his game regarding technique, assignment, and route recognition go. My issue with Surtain, and it’s not so much of an issue as it is a realization, is that he’s probably not a top-tier athlete.

That’s where the Bradberry comparison comes into play. I expect Surtain to run around a 4.49-4.52. Plenty fast, but not a blazer. You see separation at the top of some routes where most cornerbacks with “elite” burst or speed would remain in phase with the receiver.

Farley does not have those same issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran a sub 4.4 with a vertical over 38”. Based on Farley’s athleticism alone, he’s likely going in the top-15. He can be a bit out of control, which led to missed tackles as he came up to help support. Other times, Farley appears to rely on his athleticism too often.

With that said, Farley allowed a 36% completion rate during his career, and broke up 12 passes, and had four interceptions as a true sophomore before opting-out. He’s a playmaker, and if you’re looking for takeaways, Farley is your guy.

There’s no wrong answer here. I’d lean Surtain since he could probably excel in more coverages, but I’d trust Farley on third down in man coverage more.

Are there specific free agents you think the front office should be looking at? - Rich

Re-signing Verrett should be near the top of the offseason to-do lists for the 49ers, though I understand if the team feels like Verrett is out of their price range given their salary cap restraints.

William Jackson of the Bengals is the best bang for your buck that fits what the Niners want to do on defense. Mike Hilton would be the closest thing to K’Waun out there, but Hilton may be too expensive after his season. Ronald Darby and Xavier Rhodes are cheaper options you could “get by” with starting without feeling like you have a liability at cornerback.

At safety, the question is whether you want to give Tarvarius Moore a chance to start. Moneywise, it may be worth the gamble to give him an opportunity so you could invest in another position that’s more pressing. Marcus Williams of the Saints is a popular name, but he won’t be cheap. Marcus Maye is another name thrown out and my personal favorite, but he may be expensive as well.

Extensions and restructures may have to happen for Fred Warner and Jimmy Garoppolo if the 49ers want to upgrade their secondary in free agency. There are names out there who could help, but it all comes back to money.