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ESPN’s bold moves for the 49ers this offseason: Blow the budget on the secondary

The Niners will need to create some cap space

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The 49ers are 18th in the NFL in cap space, according to Over the Cap. Their effective cap space is even lower at $3.3 million. So, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen several suggestions on which players the team should restructure leading up to free agency.

ESPN went through each NFL team and suggested a bold move they’d make for free agency. Here’s what they said about the 49ers:

Blow the budget on the secondary

The backfield was San Francisco’s sole defensive weakness in 2022, usually giving up one very long completion every week. Now it’s likely to get even weaker as free safety Tashaun Gipson Sr., cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and Swiss Army DB Jimmie Ward are hitting free agency. A team with as few holes as the 49ers can afford to go on a shopping spree for veterans searching for a Super Bowl ring, and there are plenty of big names on the market this year.

Notable cornerbacks up for grabs include James Bradberry, last seen helping the Philadelphia Eagles beat San Francisco and advance to the Super Bowl — where, yes, his holding penalty ultimately decided the game, but that shouldn’t overshadow his otherwise excellent season. Other top corners in free agency include Baltimore’s Marcus Peters, Minnesota’s Patrick Peterson, New England’s Jonathan Jones and New Orleans’ Bradley Roby.

The safety market isn’t quite as deep, but the names at the top of the list are eye-opening. Jordan Poyer has earned All-Pro recognition in Buffalo. Bates has done the same in Cincinnati, and he’s six years younger. Adrian Amos has started every game for Green Bay in each of the past two seasons. Devin McCourty has done the same in New England, though at age 36 he’s a candidate for a deal of only one year.

We should add that San Francisco doesn’t have to lose any key players — re-signing Gipson, Moseley and Ward remains an option. But as the 49ers learned with their quarterbacks, depth is always a concern in the NFL, and they should be prepared to use their middle-of-the-pack cap space to ensure a secondary worthy of their front seven.

There will be little help coming in the draft, where the 49ers have traded away each of their first four picks (though they will likely add a trio of compensatory picks in the third round). That’s just further incentive for San Francisco to spend big in free agency.

I’d push back on the initial thought that the 49ers secondary was a weakness. Sure, they had their ups and downs, but the group of Mooney Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, Jimmie Ward, Talanoa Hufanga, and Tashaun Gipson all played a factor in the team’s success.

John Lynch believes Gipson will return and the 49ers would welcome him back, but we’ll see if that was lip service. As far as finding upgrades in the secondary, that’s another argument.

There are clips of Bradberry against Brandon Aiyuk that would make you think he’s unplayable, but he’s the type of cornerback you can win with. Also, Steve Wilks was the defensive back's coach in Carolina when they drafted Bradberry.

Peters takes risks and has an injury history. Furthermore, he’s not a willing tackler. I’m not sure if San Francisco would be interested in a player like that. Roby and Jones are press-man prototypes that’d be ideal fits.

Obviously, each signing a cornerback would depend on how the front office feels about Lenoir and the progress of Emmanuel Moseley, who is coming off an ACL tear.

Poyer would be a dream at safety. Amos is a heedy, versatile player. But, based on their interest in safeties in the draft, the 49ers will use a mid-round pick on at the position.