ORLANDO, Fla. – The 49ers have their projected two starting cornerbacks in place.
After that, there are a lot of uncertainties and moving parts.
But one thing has been determined, 49ers general manager John Lynch said on Monday at the NFL owners meetings. Versatile defensive back Jimmie Ward will get a long look at cornerback during the offseason before determining at which position he can help the most.
“Jimmie Ward is a guy who’s played some outside corner in his career,” Lynch said. “We’re going to experiment with that this offseason and see if that’s viable and give him some time there.”
Ward has played a 16-game season just once in his career. In 2015, he started eight of the 16 games in which he appeared as the 49ers’ nickel back. The next season, he was moved to cornerback, where he spent 10 games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury. Last year, Ward was the 49ers’ starting free safety before his season came to an end after seven games due to a fractured forearm.
Ward is playing this season on the fifth-year option of $8.526 million. It’s a hefty salary, but the 49ers believe Ward’s versatility makes him a valuable commodity. He was seen as a good fit for the 49ers’ system as a free safety. But the 49ers feel as if they have some flexibility with starting-caliber safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert already on the roster.
Therefore, the 49ers want to get a good read on Ward’s skills at cornerback, where Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon are expected to be the starters.
The 49ers are looking to add a veteran player to compete for a backup cornerback spot.
In addition, Greg Mabin is a returning player who figures to be a serious contender for a roster spot. Two days after the Buffalo Bills waived Mabin in October, the 49ers signed him to their practice squad. After his promotion to the 53-man roster in November, Mabin appeared in six games with the 49ers.
“He’s got to continue to develop,” Lynch said. “Unfortunately for him, right when he started to get on the field (last season), he was injured with a calf strain. We feel guys like that are going to have to emerge and step up.”
TIMETABLE FOR REUBEN FOSTER
The 49ers’ offseason program is set to begin April 16. Linebacker Reuben Foster’s status remains unsettled, as the 49ers await a decision from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office.
Foster was arrested last month in Los Gatos for alleged domestic violence, threats and possession of an assault weapon. The district attorney’s office has yet to determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue criminal charges.
“We’re operating on their time line,” Lynch said. “There are dates, but we’re operating on that time line and monitoring it. We’ve been in close contact with him. He’s doing a nice job.”
Regardless of the Santa Clara County DA's decision, the NFL could levy discipline against Foster for possible violations of the league's policies on personal conduct and substances of abuse. Foster was arrested in Alabama this offseason for possession of marijuana.
EXPECTATIONS FOR SHERMAN
Before Richard Sherman can be a good off-field influence on the young players on the 49ers’ defense, he must be a good player. And that’s exactly what the 49ers expect from him.
“We still think, when healthy, he’s one of the better corners in this league,” Lyunch said. “That’s what we feel. So now the challenge is getting healthy.”
Sherman is making good progress from surgeries on both feet – one to repair his torn Achilles tendon, the other to remove bone spurs. He said he expects to be cleared for football activity in May or June.
Sherman last week described his contributions to the 49ers as 50-50 – on and off the field. Lynch said Sherman brings a much-needed attitude to the 49ers’ defense.
“One of his greatest qualities is the competitor that he is,” Lynch said. “We believe that’s contagious. We believe our defense needs that. We have a lot of young players that kind of still finding their way. You need somebody with, whatever you call it, that dog. He is a determined, competitive type of guy. And those guys can influence your defense in a great way.”
DEEP QB DRAFT COULD BENEFIT 49ERS
There are any number of positions the 49ers can go with the No. 9 overall pick. The options are limitless with the first-round draft pick, as the team could consider help at defensive back, edge rusher, inside linebacker, offensive line or wide receiver.
The 49ers are not in the quarterback market, so the presence of a handful of legitimate first-round options, such as Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield could prove to be a benefit for the organization.
“It’s really intriguing with these quarterbacks, and everyone has a different favorite quarterback, to see just what’s going to happen,” Lynch said. “There are going to be so many different possibilities. Fortunately for us, there are a lot of good football players. That process has begun, but it will really develop in earnest here in the next month, which is a sprint.
“We’ll get a better feel for these guys. But there are a lot of options at our disposal. That’s the good thing. But we’re going to have to be well-versed because this thing can go so many different directions.”
NO ROAD SHOW FOR PRO DAYS
A year ago, the 49ers were in the market for a quarterback – even after the signing of veteran Brian Hoyer. Or, at least, that’s the point Lynch wanted to get across to the rest of the NFL.
Lynch was seen across the country at the pro days of Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and DeShone Kizer. He also led Deshaun Watson through a “semi-private” workout.
As it turned out, the 49ers had no intention of using the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback. But they were able to trade back one spot with the Chicago Bears, who jumped up to select Trubisky at a hefty price.
“It was a show, but we were also looking for that guy,” Lynch said. “We were looking for someone to say, ‘Hey, I’m the guy you want.’ It was a little bit of both.”
This year, Lynch will not be attending nearly as many pro days. On Thursday, he attended the pro day at his alma mater, Stanford. While the 49ers will have representatives at nearly every pro day, Lynch figures to spend most of his time watching film in Santa Clara.
“It feels like it’s time to hunker down in the office,” he said.