It’s going to be difficult for the San Francisco 49ers to retain the trio of Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, and K’Waun Williams. Many expect Sherman to move on, while Verrett and Williams remain a toss-up.
The last thing any team wants to do is replace three starters in the secondary. In the Niners' case, they might not have a choice. Verrett feels like he has the best chance to return, but that says more about the other two than Verrett.
Over the Cap’s valuation of Verrett’s 2020 season comes in at $9.8 million annually. Considering his injury history, that may be too steep of a price for the front office to pay. I could see the team offering Verrett a contract loaded with incentives, but his contract guarantees are difficult to project.
Nobody would argue K’Waun’s value when he’s on the field, but he always seems banged up — especially this past season. Knowing he’s from New Jersey and how Robert Saleh just poached 87% of the 49ers staff, it’s easy to see the Jets offering more than any other team for Williams’s services.
Having ten draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft helps. It’s time for San Francisco to invest a premium draft pick in a cornerback. Expecting you could fill Williams’s role with a Day 3 pick is a risky proposition. That’s where you make use of the players who are currently on the roster.
Emmanuel Moseley is a restricted free agent. The 49ers could retain Moseley for around $3 million. Dontae Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and figures to return, much to the chagrin of Niners’ fans. Johnson was surprisingly serviceable in limited action during 2020 but should continue to serve as a depth piece and play on special teams.
Making a case for E-Man
A cheap alternative to Williams is already on the roster, and that’s Moseley. He played 53 snaps in the slot this past season and 48 at the same spot during 2019. If new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans's plan is to blitz more and have an aggressive mindset, Moseley’s man-to-man cover skills could benefit him inside.
Think about the three players who bested E-man during 2020: DeAndre Hopkins, DK Metcalf, and Devante Adams. So, three of the better receivers the NFL has to offer. While Moseley might not be the option to start in Sherman's place, he won’t be lining up against the league’s best in the slot.
Even against those three, Moseley still competed. A fairer takeaway from Moseley’s season was “good offense beats good defense,” outside of a handful of reps. This biggest drop-off between Williams and Moseley — this goes for Williams and anyone, honestly — is the run defense and ability as a blitzer.
Moseley missed seven tackles this past season and has rushed the passer three times in the past two seasons. K’Waun missed ten tackles in the past two seasons. His average depth of tackle in 2020 was 2.6, which is absurd and gives you an idea of how valuable he was against the run. Williams plays the run like a linebacker and has no issue taking on offensive lineman or fullbacks.
More often than not, he still wins those matchups. In each of the past three seasons, Williams has blitzed at least 24 times, with pressure rates over 20% each year. K’Wuan is a terror off the edge, and there’s no replacing what he brings to a defense.
If the assumption that we’ll see more man coverage under Ryans is correct, some of Williams’s value is lost as Moseley is superior in man coverage. Moseley served as K’Waun’s backup in training camp this past year. So San Francisco has already toyed with the idea of E-Man playing full-time in the slot.
It’s a simple fix as a coach. If there is a minicamp and training camp this season, Ryans can test out slot blitzes with Moseley. If he doesn’t like what he sees, then scrap the Moseley blitzes, send someone else, and use Moseley as strictly a coverage player.