With 38 players potentially hitting free agency, it’s going to be a busy offseason for San Francisco 49ers’ general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
One area the Niners could look completely different in next season is the secondary. Lynch said the franchise would plan for a $175 million salary cap in 2021, and with nine players from the secondary up for new deals, it will be interesting to see how the front office proceeds.
Despite missing pass-rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford for basically the entire season, the secondary was one of San Francisco’s strengths. The 49ers gave up just 207.9 yards per game, which is the fourth-fewest in the NFL.
Safety Jimmie Ward had a good year and is under contract for 2021.
Here are the nine players whose contracts are expiring:
CB Richard Sherman: 2020 salary was $9.05 million (UFA)
CB K’Waun Williams: 2020 salary was $2.95 million (UFA)
CB Jason Verrett: 2020 salary was $1.04 million (UFA)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 2020 salary was $971,166 (UFA)
CB Donate Johnson: 2020 salary was $910,000 (UFA)
CB Jamar Taylor: 2020 salary was $910,000 (UFA)
CB Emmanuel Moseley: 2020 salary was $675,000 (ERFA)
CB Ken Webster: 2020 salary was $675,000 (EFRA)
FS Jaquiski Tartt: 2020 salary was $6.5 million (UFA)
S Marcell Harris: 2020 salary was $675,000 (RFA)
*EFRAs: If San Francisco offers them a one-year deal worth the league minimum — which depends on their experience — they cannot negotiate with other teams.
Sherman has already said it would take a miracle for him to re-sign with the team given the cap crunch. The 33-year-old All-Pro has been one of the best corners in the game since entering the league in 2011, but it looks like he will play out the end of his career with another team.
Williams dealt with injury issues that forced him to miss eight games this season. When he is on the field, he is a difference-maker for the 49ers. Williams is one of the best slot corners in the league, only giving up 15 receptions for 83 yards when targeted in coverage. He’s also effective when blitzing, with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh using Williams as a rusher at times.
Verrett was a pleasant surprise. The former Pro-Bowler bounced back in a big way after struggling with injuries from 2016 through 2018. Injuries to the starters gave Verrett a chance to shine during the 2020 season, and he didn’t disappoint. Pro Football Focus gave Verrett a 77.6 grade, ninth-highest out of all the corners in the league.
The 29-year-old was asked about re-signing with San Francisco during his season-ending media availability:
“Coming in here and seeing how they turned things around for me physically and mentally, it’s kind of hard to not want to come back,” Verrett said. “It’s kind of hard not to want to see if we can work things out just because it’s a class act organization. They’ve done a hell of a job with me through my time last year and this year.”
Witherspoon has been a wild card since being selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. At 6’3, 195 pounds, ‘Spoon has all of the physical tools coaches look for in a corner. But, his inconsistency resulted in the coaching staff losing faith in his abilities. Witherspoon has made some head-scratching plays during his tenure with the team, but he has teased with his ability at times as well. He was one of the best players on the field against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17 and did a fantastic job covering DK Metcalf.
Moseley took over the starting job from Witherspoon in 2019 and has been one of Shanahan’s favorites. The 24-year-old played in 12 games this season, and without Sherman on the field, his numbers took a hit.
Moseley gave up 28 more yards in coverage in 2020 than he did last season while playing four fewer games. Opposing quarterbacks had a 98.8 rating when targeting Moseley and had a 58.8% completion percentage. I expect Moseley to be back in 2021. He’s young and has shown the ability to play at a high level on a dominant defense.
Taylor played well while filling in this season before tearing his ACL, while Johnson has been a dependable backup for the team. Depending on the price, both could be back with the Niners next season.
Tartt might be too rich for the 49ers’ blood and could be on his way out. Tavarius Moore is still raw but will need to improve in coverage if he wants to be a starter in the league. Harris looked better as a linebacker than he has at safety and is another cheap depth piece that could be re-signed.
Several corners could hit the open market this offseason, but some of the big names will probably be too expensive for the Niners. Players like Mackensie Alexander and Brian Poole are in line for big raises and will more than likely command top-dollar. You can see the complete list of unrestricted free agent corners on Sportrac.
San Francisco can also add to the secondary through the draft. The 49ers have eight draft picks as of now — they could get more depending on what happens with comp picks — and will almost certainly use one of the selections on the secondary.
Here are Alex Eisen’s top 10 corners and safeties who will be available in the 2021 NFL Draft:
- Patrick Surtain II – Alabama
- Jaycee Horn – South Carolina
- Shaun Wade – Ohio State
- Caleb Farley – Virginia Tech
- Derion Kendrick – Clemson
- Asante Samuel Jr. – Florida State
- Tyson Campbell – Georgia
- Paulson Adebo – Stanford
- Eric Stokes – Georgia
- Josh Jobe – Alabama
- Paris Ford – Pittsburgh
- Jevon Holland- Oregon
- Andre Cisco – Syracuse
- Trevon Moehrig – TCU
- Bubba Bolden – Miami
- Caden Sterns – Texas
- Ar’Darius Washington – TCU
- Richard LeCounte – Georgia
- Kolby Harvell-Peel – Oklahoma State
- Reed Blankenship -Middle Tennessee
Who do you think will be starting in the secondary for the 49ers next season? Is there a particular player you want the team to target in free agency or at the draft?