The 49ers fear they’ve lost star cornerback Jason Verrett for the season. The defense is already thin at the position as starter Emmanuel Moseley recovers from a knee injury himself.
Niners Head coach Kyle Shanahan said that Moseley might return next week against the Eagles. However, Shanahan seems to be big on his players practicing throughout the week. So we’ll have to keep an eye out to see whether Moseley practices this week.
Even with a healthy Moseley, San Francisco still must replace Jason Verrett. That wasn’t the reason they signed Josh Norman. Now that Norman figures to start, the team still must find another cornerback.
The 49ers will be on the phones during the next couple of days to find a cornerback that could come in and help. Here’s a look at five players the team should be interested in.
Richard Sherman - Free agent
Let’s get the obvious answer out of the way. Shanahan said on Sunday that “Sherm’s always a possibility.”
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport was on KNBR Monday morning and had this to say about Sherman: “I don’t expect the NFL to get involved. There has been contact; he would make a lot of sense.”
Sherman could slot right in as he knows the defense. After that, the question would become what type of shape he is in and what Sherman has left physically. The good news is he’s never relied on athleticism — though Sherman is a much better athlete than given credit for.
Sherman isn’t a player that gets fooled by route concepts, and if he’s going to tackle as he did in 2019, he’d be a no-brainer. Sherman missed seven tackles in 849 snaps during the ‘19 season. He missed five tackles on 321 snaps last season. That’s. a difference of 11%.
Michael Ojemudia - Broncos
When in doubt, poach a player from Vic Fangio’s defense. Ojemudia has learned from the best defensive coach going on two years, started 11 games for Denver last year, has good size (6’1, 200 pounds), and comes from a good college program (Iowa).
It’s been nearly two weeks since John Lynch and John Elway have done business, so I think they’re due.
Why would Denver trade Ojemudia? First, he’s buried on the depth chart. The 2020 third-rounder is now behind Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, first-round pick Patrick Surtain, and Bryce Callahan. So, he does not see the field.
Ojemudia is currently on the short-term injured reserve list with a hamstring injury — which could scare the 49ers off. Two weeks ago, Ojemudia was supposedly week-to-week. More specifically, he was out 4-6 weeks.
Last season was a situation where a young guy had to play sooner than anyone would have expected. He lacks top-end speed, and it showed on deep routes. Also, tackling was a concern as Ojemudia missed 17.
Ojemudia looked sound in zone coverage and was a playmaker who caused turnovers went Denver needed it most.
Ojemudia allowed 58% of his 68 targets to be completed for 9.6 yards per target. He allowed three touchdowns, had five pass breakups, zero interceptions — though he dropped two per Sports Info Solutions — and forced four fumbles with a tackle for loss.
Knowing what he’d cost and how Ojemudia is on the outside looking in on Denver’s roster, acquiring him via trade helps you this year, and he is on a rookie contract for the next two seasons.
Dre Kirkpatrick - Free agent
The week training camp began, the 49ers worked out Kirkpatrick. During the same interview with KNBR, Rapoport said Kirkpatrick was previously unvaccinated. I wonder how much that played a part in him not signing with the 49ers.
Rapoport confirmed that Kirkpatrick is now vaccinated, and he could be more of an immediate option than Sherman.
“Hey Dre, do you want to play for the Texans, who may have just won their final game of the season, or us, where you’ll look better than ever with our defensive line.” - Lynch, probably.
If Kirkpatrick is healthy, he’d be an upgrade over Dontae Johnson and Ambry Thomas, and the 49ers wouldn’t have to accelerate Demmodore Lenoir’s learning curve.
Kirkpatrick started 11 games last season for the Cardinals. He allowed a completion percentage of 63.3 on 79 targets for 6.8 yards per target. Kirkpatrick allowed two touchdowns while breaking up four passes and had three interceptions.
Cameron Dantzler - Vikings
Sports Info Solutions has a “total points saved” metric — a stat that paints the best picture as it accounts for a players surroundings, includes EPA, and isn’t judging them solely on the result of the play — and had Dantzler’s 2020 total pints saved (43) higher than Josh Norman (15) and Kirkpatrick’s (19) combined in ten starts. Ojemudia’s total points saved last season were 24.
Dantzler was a draft crush of mine, and his length and coverage skills seem like something the Niners covet.
So, what went wrong from the end of the season to Dantzler being a healthy scratch for Week 1? I asked my buddy Arif Hasan from The Athletic:
He seemed like a good corner at the end of the season because he had 2 or 3 games in the final six that ended up being pretty good. That’s not really a great foundation to build off of. On top of that, every time he’s tried to add weight in his career, he’s slowed down. The Vikings had him add weight this off-season and he seemed pretty slow to me. He might be the kind of guy that can’t add weight and maintain speed at the same time. He also got hurt three separate times last year and maybe one or all of those injuries contributed to him not having it this year.
Speed was at the top of the list of concerns coming out of college for Dantzler, with his weight being a close second.
Dantzler is two injuries away from playing. The Vikings drafted him in the third round of the 2020 draft, and I imagine would be willing to part ways for a Day 3 conditional pick as he doesn’t appear to be in their future plans. He’d be a no-risk medium-reward type of signing for the 49ers secondary. The second-year cornerback out of Mississippi State is also under a rookie contract for the next three years.
Dantzler allowed 57.6 of his 59 targets to be completed for 6.9 yards per target. He allowed four touchdowns, had two pass breakups, two interceptions, four tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. Dantzler also had the lowest percentage of missed tackles (8.5%) out of any cornerback on this list.
Greedy Williams - Browns
Greedy Williams was the second-round draft pick from the Browns in 2019. He started 12 games that season but missed all of 2020 with an injury.
Cleveland drafted Greg Newsome in the first round of the 2021 draft and he beat out Williams to start.
Joe Woods — the former DB coach for San Francisco who helped transform this defense to what it is today — is Cleveland’s defensive coordinator and they rely on dime defense a lot, meaning, there will be six defensive backs on the field quite a bit.
Against the Chiefs, Newsom and Denzel Ward played 97% of the snaps. M.J. Stewart played 92%, and Troy Hill played 66%. Those are just the cornerbacks. There’s not much room left for Williams, who saw the field for only eight snaps.
Williams, 23, might benefit from a fresh start and fits the profile for what the 49ers like at cornerback with good size (6’2) and is comfortable playing off coverage. Williams would be another low-risk, medium-reward cornerback who could potentially develop into a promising starter.
Popular names who won’t make the cut
Bryce Callahan of the Broncos is on the last year of his deal, is a veteran, and would be tempting. But he played 84% of the snaps during Week 1 for Denver and is locked in as their slot cornerback. Of course, you know they’d like to get Surtain on the field, so Callahan would make sense, but money matters.
Callahan’s cap number of $8.5 million (the 49ers would be on the hook for roughly $7.2 million of Callahan’s salary, per Over the Cap) is more than the total cap space San Francisco has. So unless we’re looking at another extension for Laken Tomlinson or Arik Armstead, a pricey veteran seems unlikely.
The same goes for Stephon Gilmore, and he’s on the PUP list, meaning he’ll miss the next five games.
Jaguars C.J. Henderson was rumored as a trade candidate this summer, but he started and played every snap for Jacksonville Sunday.
Players like Joe Haden — a veteran who makes plays and is in the last year of his contract — are too expensive for the 49ers to try to acquire. Plus, who is giving up a starting-caliber cornerback the first week of the NFL? To say the Niners are in a tough spot at cornerback would be the understatement of the year.
Who the team signs will tell us how they feel about the rookies on the roster.