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49ers Free Agent Tracker: Dontae Johnson is Mr. Versatile

Mar 12, 2022 at 9:58 AM

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With free agency approaching on March 16 at 1 p.m. PT, the San Francisco 49ers have some blaring needs they need to address. One of those needs is the cornerback position. The 49ers currently have four available cornerback slots entering free agency: Jason Verrett, Josh Norman, K'Waun Willimas, and Dontae Johnson. I wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers start shopping in-house at this position.

The free agent that makes the most sense to re-sign is Dontae Johnson. He was a fourth-round pick drafted by the 49ers in 2014. Johnson started in the secondary, played a role, and was cut several times by NFL teams. He is to the 49ers like Matthew Slater is to the New England Patriots, also a free agent.

Statistically, Johnson won't dazzle you with his stats. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has one sack, four quarterback hits, four pressures, 184 combined tackles, 43 stops, and two forced fumbles. He was targeted 238 times and gave up 154 receptions for 1,920 yards. Johnson has 13 touchdowns, two interceptions, and 19 pass breakups. He has a career total of 22 penalties, three from the 2021 season. Johnson lined up on the line 41 times, played in the box 348 times, played free safety 39 times, played the nickel slot position 512 times, and lined up outside 1,619 times.

Though it may seem like Johnson gives up big plays, he always seems to find a way to make up for it by making a massive play for the 49ers. On October 10, 2021, in the 49ers' 10-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Johnson started at the nickel cornerback due to an injury to cornerback K'Waun Willams. Pro Football Focus graded Johnson an 83.8, the highest grade of his career. He forced a fumble on running back Chase Edmonds, and he recovered the ball. On second down with seven yards, Kyler Murray dropped back in shotgun and passed to Edmonds. Edmonds catched the pass cleanly, and Johnson fought off his block to make the bang-bang play for the 49ers to give rookie quarterback Trey Lance another opportunity.

On December 5, 2021, in the 23-30 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Johnson played left corner in the game. Pro Football Focus graded him a 68.4. In the fourth quarter of the game, on a third and goal at the 49ers' two-yard line, Russell Wilson passed short to his tight Gerald Everett for no gain. 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair was there to meet Everett to force the fumble. Johnson was there to recover the fumble making a heads-up play for the 49ers.

If Johnson's numbers aren't eye-popping, why would the 49ers bring him back? Aren't there better options in the free-agent market? Johnson is a "perfect fit" for the 49ers. He's cost-effective, making the most sense for the 49ers to bring him back on a one-year deal with some incentives. Over the Cap reports Johnson made a little over $1 million in 2021. Because of Johnson's versatility and willingness to play special teams or line up anywhere in the secondary, I'm predicting the 49ers to offer him a slightly higher veteran's contract with incentives. The veteran's contract in the NFL is around $660,000, which increases every year. Since Johnson made $1 million in 2021, the offer should be slightly higher in the $1.2 to $1.5 range.

Another reason the 49erd should bring Johnson back is because he knows the system. Johnson will enter his ninth season. He's played for several teams, but he found his groove with the team that drafted him, the 49ers. His versatility is critical for the 49ers. He can start, play and lineup wherever you need him to. He makes mistakes but makes up for them. I couldn't imagine playing one position my whole professional career and learning and playing other positions on the fly. Johnson does just that; playing outside, inside, in the box, and over the top sometimes in the same game. Not only is this versatility, but this is also showing that Johnson knows the system. It also indicates that defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans trusts Johnson.

The last reason why the 49ers should re-sign Johnson is because of his locker room presence. Johnson is a football veteran at this point in his career. He's seen it all, but most importantly, he's the type of guy you want in your locker room. He's the perfect lead-by-example guy. He's living proof that hard work plus dedication equals success. Johnson may not be the top corner in the league, but he portrays himself to be the best that he can be every Thursday, Sunday, or Monday. He seems to have a special bond with the young and old players on the team. Therefore, I will make a bold prediction that if Johnson re-signs with the 49ers, he will wear the captain patch on his uniform.

I wouldn't be surprised if specific NFL teams such as the Jets or the Dolphins make Johnson a much better offer than the 49ers. New head coach Mike McDaniel has all the cap space in the world. Getting a familiar veteran player on defense may be a priority for his new Dolphins coaching staff. Robert Saleh, former 49ers defensive coordinator and now the head coach for the New York Jets, is most familiar with Johnson. He may see the need to add a versatile veteran to his locker room. Johnson may also want to go and play closer to home, and the Jets have more money to spend on free agents.

With minimum cap space, the 49ers have many holes to fill on their roster. The 49ers may have to sell the legacy and the promise to compete for the Lombardi to get free agents to sign. The 49ers need to show how much they value Johnson's contributions, role as a teammate, skillset, and versatility he demonstrates.
  • Written by:
    Wayne Breezie is a 49ers content creator. He had his first guest appearance on Ronbosports in 2012. He began writing for a Facebook group called the League of the 49ers. Next, he began writing for Nothing But Niners in 2017. In 2018, Wayne Breezie made his debut on YouTube’s Nothing But Niners show. In 2019, he started his podcast called Nitty Gritty Niners. After putting the pen down for several years, Breezie saw an opportunity to write for His first published article was in January of 2022 with 49ersCap, and he currently writes and produces weekly podcasts.
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