When the 49ers traded up to select Ji’Ayir Brown with pick 87 in the NFL draft, it sent a loud and clear message that Brown was a target for the organization. Profiling as a fast and free ball-hawk at safety, the future is set for Brown to pair with Talanoa Hufanga as the safety duo for many years.
Tashaun Gipson, Sr. was a find for the 49ers in 2022. Initially, Gipson’s signing appeared to be insurance for Jimmie Ward, who began the season dealing with an injury. When Ward did return, Gipson held on to the free safety spot.
After playing in all 17 games last season, Gipson signed a one-year deal worth $2,900,000 and $2.1 million guaranteed. Essentially, Gipson has been taking his career year-to-year with his third consecutive one-year deal (one with Chicago and two with San Francisco).
After adding five interceptions, eight pass breakups, and 61 tackles, Gipson’s deal is “bang for your buck.” It’s been theorized that this is Gipson’s final season in the NFL. How true is that? We’ll find out, but he is under contract for this season.
All of these points to Gipson being a placeholder for the position while Brown gets his feet wet and up to speed. Realistically, can Brown beat out Gipson for a starting role?
In years past, the 49ers have thought a step ahead with draft picks who eventually will replace departing free agents. Think Hufanga for Jaquiski Tartt or Aaron Banks for Laken Tomlinson.
This scenario is certainly plausible, but last season was a slight shift with rookies who start immediately. Samuel Womack, while short-lived, began the season as the starting nickel cornerback. Spencer Burford “started” at right guard, but rotated with Daniel Brunskill in 2023.
There is a scenario in which Brown sees snaps, at times during the season, and forces his way on the field. Perhaps, a three-safety look, with Hufanga and Brown roaming the box and Gipson as the single-high safety.
Even before Hufanga took over the starting safety role for Tartt, the coaching staff pushed for him to get on the field. Both players have similar skill sets, and after listening to Steve Wilks, he and the team are excited about Brown’s addition.
The team had similar things to say about Hufanga throughout his first season. Look for Wilks to get creative with the secondary in his first season as defensive coordinator.
Can Brown beat out Gipson? Of course, but he would have to blow the team away. What’s more likely, is Brown learns and contributes in spots.
However, the order shakes out. The 49ers are incredibly excited about the future of the position.