Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers


49ers Roster Breakdown: Revamped Secondary Likely on the Horizon

Justin Wong
Mar 13, 2021 at 5:19 PM1


With several key defensive backs set to hit free agency, is it time to panic? The 49ers could be looking at a completely revamped secondary this upcoming season.

Out of all the key positions on the 49ers roster, the secondary remains the biggest concern. Essentially, the entire depth chart is up in the air with Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Jaquiski Tartt set to become free agents. 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley was a restricted free agent but just signed a two-year deal for $10 million, while strong safety Marcell Harris was re-signed for one year. The lone starter who remains under contract is 49ers free safety Jimmie Ward.

49ers Secondary 2021 Free Agents


  • Richard Sherman — UFA
  • Jaquiski Tartt — UFA
  • K'Waun Williams — UFA
  • Jason Verrett — UFA
  • Ahkello Witherspoon — UFA
  • Dontae Johnson — UFA
  • Jamar Taylor — UFA
  • Emmanuel Moseley — RFA
  • Marcell Harris — RFA

Initial Outlook


As it stands today, the 49ers have Moseley and Ward leading the group with questions aplenty behind them.

Moseley is a versatile enough cornerback to play either outside or inside, which gives the 49ers some options as to how they want to approach the offseason. Outside of Moseley, there are four unproven cornerbacks on the roster: Tim Harris, Mark Fields, Adonis Alexander, and Ken Webster.

Ward was the 49ers' starting free safety last year but is capable of playing either safety spot. Would it make some sense to promote Tarvarius Moore to free safety and slide Ward to strong safety?

The reason why I'm suggesting these possible changes is for the mere fact that it's going to be difficult to revamp the secondary in one offseason. The 49ers have the tall task of adding players with starting experience and/or youthful upside to develop this upcoming season. Their choices in free agency might be limited if the 49ers do re-sign tackle Trent Williams to a potentially massive extension. The 49ers have plenty of draft capital this year but it's typically a steep learning curve to develop defensive backs. Ideally, the 49ers would like to retain their own free agents but that seems unlikely--unless a tough market allows the 49ers to re-sign them at reasonable deals.

Free Agency


As noted earlier, the 49ers' approach to adding pieces in the secondary largely hinges on whether they retain their biggest pending free agent in tackle Trent Williams.

Out of the current group of 49ers free agents, it would be stellar if they're able to retain K'Waun Williams to continue his role at nickel back. Williams is one of the more underrated players in the league at a premium position. Based on his earlier comments, it's unlikely that Sherman will be back in a 49ers uniform. A combination of injuries and inconsistencies has probably run its course for Tartt and Witherspoon.

Retaining Verrett to a two-year deal at a reasonable price could be a win-win for both sides; I'm not sure other teams are willing to further bid for his services given his injury concerns.

The 49ers typically don't spend heavily in defensive backs with a bigger emphasis on the defensive line to set the tone for the secondary. I would expect the 49ers to go bargain hunting in the second wave of free agency after bigger free agent names like the Seahawks' Shaquill Griffin and the Bengals' William Jackson go off the board.

Perhaps the 49ers target veteran free agents on one-year deals while rounding out the secondary with draft prospects to contribute to later in the year. Outside cornerbacks such as the Colts' Xavier Rhodes, the Packers' Kevin King, and the Rams' Troy Hill come to mind. There also seems to be a good surplus of slot cornerbacks such as the Eagles' Nickell Robey-Coleman, the Lions' Justin Coleman, and the Titans' Desmond King. It might be optimistic thinking but the Raiders' Lamarcus Joyner, the Jets' Bradley McDougald, and the Colts' Malik Hooker are all good fits at safety.

Draft


The 49ers enter the NFL draft with 10 draft picks, notably with seven of those slotted in Day 3--including three fifth-round picks. The 49ers typically don't spend big on the secondary via free agency so I would expect the 49ers' front office to be proactive in this draft. Perhaps they trade up to get their guys, but given the 49ers' strong need to retool their depth, it wouldn't surprise me if they draft 3-4 defensive backs to round out the group.

Overall Outlook


The 49ers' defensive philosophy has always prioritized the front seven over the secondary but that doesn't mean the team can just get by with subpar talent—see last season against the Miami Dolphins with Brian Allen. They're going to need to find a good mix of savvy veterans and draft prospects to get their secondary to a respectable level; retaining a couple of their own free agents could help the efforts with stability in the system. Depending on how the 49ers play their cards this offseason, the secondary could potentially be the Achilles' heel to their defense.
  • Justin Wong
  • Written by:
    Justin Wong has been writing for the 49ers Webzone since 2017 while also running an NFC West blog and podcast called Just The West. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @JustTheWest on Twitter.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • Anti-armstead
    Need to have Kyle as offensive coordinator and Jim Harbaugh as the HEAD COACH. Kyle chokes all the time in play calling. Anyone QB after Lawrence is just a hope and a prayer and a wasted 1st and 2nd round pick. Needs a better CB and move up to make a STRONGER OFFENSIVE LINE to help ANYONE who plays QB. Slater is a absolute MUST 1ST ROUND DRAFT PICK FOR A THOUSAND REASONS.
    Mar 20, 2021 at 9:31 PM
    0
    Response: Haven't heard Harbaugh's name in quite some time!

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