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49ers safety group: Who stays, who goes?

Going through the Niners roster, position-by-position.

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Safety is a sneaky position of need for the 49ers heading into the 2022 offseason. You have Jimmie Ward, who will be 31 by the start of training camp, as one of two players we can guarantee will be in the safety room, along with fifth-round rookie Talanoa Hufanga.

Ward isn’t a player that relies on pure athleticism, so his age is overstated. He also played double-digit games this past year for the second season in a row. There isn’t a statistic that fully quantifies what Ward brings to the 49ers' defense.

When he’s on the field, the defense doesn’t give up big plays. Ward had an argument for being one of the best man-to-man coverage players for the Niners, too.

Ward enters the third year of his “six” year contract. When you take a look at his deal, 2022 is the final year where San Francisco pays Ward a base salary. The team could void his contract next offseason with minimal dead money.

Ward has done enough for this organization to warrant a lifetime contract. Still, at some point, the team has to look for his replacement. Regardless of positions, the best teams in the NFL never wait until the position is an actual need. They’re always grooming talent.

Tarvarius Moore enters the final year of his contract. He’s also coming off a torn Achilles. Moore is young and was an elite athlete before the injury, so he could return to form. Unfortunately, history is not on Moore’s side.

For every Cam Akers’ comeback story, there are three Marlon Mack’s who are out of the league shortly after a failed comeback attempt. I hope we see the best version of Moore, as he’s the type of defensive back that would flourish under DeMeco Ryans.

Trading places

Jaquiski Tartt and Tavon Wilson are unrestricted free agents. Dontae Johnson had to play safety out of necessity, but that was due to injury.

One benefit of a veteran roster means those players are on special teams. Wilson was set to have a big role on special teams this year. The 49ers didn’t get 100 snaps out of Wilson.

Wilson missing time meant inexperienced players saw the field on special teams. The domino effect of the veteran players missing time took its toll in the game's third phase. The 49ers will have to replace Wilson but hope to have better luck on the injury front.

I feel for Tartt. He was the glue guy on the defense and was a big reason why they executed at a high level. Suppose we factor in the human element of the decision-makers. In that case, the last thing they remember will be a dropped interception that will inevitably cloud their judgment of what was an otherwise stellar season for Tartt.

Tartt started 14 games, which was a career-high. He would rotate between playing free safety to essentially being a linebacker. This past season was by far and away Tartt's best year in the NFL.

But there’s no coming back from that final play. That was the last straw. During the season, Hufanga would rotate with Tartt. This was happening when the team needed to win games to make the playoffs. The 49ers have been bracing for Tartt’s departure from the second they selected Hufanga.

New faces

Marcus Williams, Jessie Bates, and Tyrann Mathiew will be the names fans clamor for over the next month. But it's the Jordan Whitehead’s, Justin Reid’s, and Quandre Diggs are the safeties the 49ers should have their eyes set on.

The 49ers should look for a playmaker at safety. Whitehead is exactly that. He had two interceptions, six pass breakups, and seven tackles for loss last season.

Diggs is no stranger to turnovers himself. He had five interceptions and pass breakups apiece.

With Reid, you’re betting that his recent downfall is due to playing for the Texans and that you could restart his career.

The 49ers' philosophy has been to bet on their pass rush. When that’s the case, you need opportunistic defensive backs. Whitehead and Diggs fit that mold.