According to a report by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Jaguars appear to have soured on cornerback C.J. Henderson and are giving the impression that they could trade the ninth overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft before the start of the season. While the 49ers have seemed more content with their defensive backfield than many outside evaluators expected this offseason, Henderson could be an intriguing enough name to lead them to pull the trigger on a big move.
Assuming Jacksonville does make Henderson available, the trade market should be quite active for the 22-year-old. Henderson started the first eight games of the Jaguars season in 2020 before he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Before his injury, he recorded 36 tackles, six passes defended, and an interception.
While he was far from exceptional as a rookie, Henderson was a competent starter without much of a supporting cast on an abysmal Jaguars defense.
Henderson once looked like one of the favorites to be drafted by the 49ers with the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Instead, the Jaguars selected the cornerback out of Florida four picks before the Niners' first selection (which they ultimately used to trade down and select Javon Kinlaw).
Since he was off the board before the 49ers were on the clock, it’s hard to know what their internal evaluations of him were. However, if he was considered a viable target by the front office, it could surely present an interesting opportunity to acquire a premium young talent.
The 49ers have not made a significant addition at cornerback in either of the past two offseasons despite significant external questions about their depth at the position. Instead, they’ve relied on the continued development of players already in their organization and bet on improved health.
While Jason Verrett emerged as a legitimate number one corner in 2020, San Francisco still dealt with a bevy of injuries that led to extremely inconsistent play in their secondary. Yet, after losing Ahkello Witherspoon and Richard Sherman in free agency, third-round pick Ambry Thomas remains the only notable acquisition at corner.
After trading two future first-round picks and a future third-round pick to move up in this year’s draft, the 49ers are already thin on draft capital, which could make a deal difficult. However, with limited cap flexibility and no clear prospect of selecting in the first round of the 2022 or 2023 NFL drafts, the 49ers could be willing to risk even more of their future chips for an immediate upgrade, like Henderson.
Any acquiring team would have Henderson under team control on a three-year deal worth slightly more than $7.4 million followed by a team option for another year, great value for a starting-caliber cornerback. However, if the 49ers think Henderson has the potential to be an impact player, that contract would be a pittance to play for an above-average defensive back.
The Jaguars would lose more than $4.5 million in cap space by trading Henderson, but Jacksonville has enough space to make that amount surmountable if they hope to make a move.
Ultimately, it will come down to what caliber of compensation former 49ers general manager (and current Jaguars GM) Trent Baalke and Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer will require to part with the 2020 first-round pick. San Francisco will not be able to match any offers, including a top pick, but they have a selection in the middle rounds (2-5) in all of their future drafts, including two third-round picks in 2023.
Could a third-round pick in 2022 and a second-round pick in 2023 be enough? Would you be willing to sacrifice that much draft capital to acquire a young player like Henderson? Let us know in the comments!