49ers

49ers roster analysis: Future secondary needs warrant action now

49ers roster analysis: Future secondary needs warrant action now

This is the eighth installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

Today, a look at the 49ers’ defensive backs.

Under contract (signed through)

-CB Richard Sherman (2020)
-S Jaquiski Tartt (2020)
-CB K’Waun Williams (2020)
-CB Ahkello Witherspoon (2020)
-S Tarvarius Moore (2021)
-CB/S D.J. Reed (2021)
-S Marcell Harris (2020)
-CB Tim Harris (2022)
-CB Teez Tabor (2020)
-S Jacob Thieneman (2021)
-CB Jermaine Kelly (2021)
-S Chris Edwards (2021)
-S Derrick Kindred (2020)

Sherman enters the third year of the three-year, $27.15 million contract he negotiated with the 49ers after the Seattle Seahawks released him in March of 2018. Tartt and Williams also are on the final years of their contracts, so the 49ers could look to extend any of them during the offseason.

Expiring contracts

-S Jimmie Ward (UFA)
-CB Jason Verrett (UFA)
-CB Dontae Johnson (UFA)
-CB Emmanuel Moseley (EFA)

Ward is a priority to re-sign. It’s just a matter of how much attention he receives on the open market (if he gets that far) and how far the 49ers will go to re-sign him.

A year ago, Verrett signed a one-year, prove-it contract. He went on injured reserve early in the season.

Moseley will be back on the team. He has no outside negotiating power because of his status as an exclusive-rights free agent.

What needs to happen

The defensive backfield situation might be the most complex to figure out for the 49ers this offseason. Ward is scheduled to be a free agent, but the 49ers also have three of their other top-five defensive backs entering the final years of their contracts.

First things first, they have to figure out how to approach Ward. They would like to retain him, but there might also be some hesitancy because of his injury history. Ward finally played a 16-game season, but that was only after missing the first three games, then picking up three games in the postseason.

Sherman, who turns 32 next month, had an outstanding regular season. Do the 49ers open talks with him about extending his contract?

On the other side, Moseley ended up as the starter over Witherspoon, who enters the final year of his deal. After the demotion, Witherspoon asked to play more special teams. Moseley generally played well, but he was in the middle of the biggest play of Super Bowl LIV.

Tartt, the starting strong safety, also enters the final year of his contract. He and Ward were high-school teammates and work well together.

Williams, one of the top nickel backs in the league, also is entering the final year of his deal.

The 49ers have just one pick in the first four rounds of the draft. This is why it makes a lot of sense to trade back (and trade back and trade back) to acquire selections in the second, third and fourth rounds.

This is a good draft for defensive backs. And while drafting for need is not often advisable, it becomes a lot better of a plan when it is a need that is projected a year down the road.

[RELATED: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020]

Expectations

The 49ers had the best pass defense in the league last season. Despite playing with a lead for most games, the 49ers allowed just 169.2 yards passing per game. That was the lowest average passing yards allowed in the NFL in more than a decade.

It will be nearly impossible to match that level of pass defense of a year ago. So much of the success the 49ers experienced against the pass was a product of the team’s pass rush. That will likely have to be the case again next season.

Teams generally shied away from Sherman’s side. But Sherman gave up a couple of big plays in the postseason, including one late in the Super Bowl. He likely will be challenged more in 2020, which will give him more opportunities to add to his career total of 39 interceptions (including postseason).

The 49ers must find more consistency on the other side. Moseley enters the offseason as the starter. Witherspoon is competing for a role. Tartt appears locked in as one starting safety, but the other spot is wide open at this point.

If Ward does not return to the team, Moore could be next in line to step in as a starter.

If the 49ers use an early draft pick on a safety or cornerback (or both), then competition could potentially lead to a rookie or two in the team’s starting defensive backfield.

George Kittle jokingly offers up Richard Sherman's phone number online

George Kittle jokingly offers up Richard Sherman's phone number online

Professional athletes notoriously keep an extremely safe guard over their personal cell phone numbers.

With good reason, as their devices likely never would stop ringing if the number was publicly available.

49ers cornerback Richard Sherman turned 32 years old on Monday, and his fellow all-pro and teammate George Kittle offered him an interesting present via social media.

Obviously this is all in good fun, as Kittle always has been known for ribbing his teammates.

[RELATED: Why Lynch likely was scouting Louisville's Becton from home]

Sherman has 114 career passes defenses, but he’d have to swat away a lot more phone calls if Kittle were to blast out his digits.

Celebrate Richard Sherman's 32nd birthday by remembering 2019 rants

Celebrate Richard Sherman's 32nd birthday by remembering 2019 rants

Richard Sherman is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but he might be most in his element at a podium.

The 49ers cornerback is one of the league's best speakers, captivating reporters looking to fill notebooks and fans starved to hear something interesting from the players they follow whenever he addresses the media.

Our colleagues in content at NBC Sports Northwest celebrated Sherman's 32nd birthday on Monday by remembering his epic dismissal of then-49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree after the 2013 NFC Championship Game, but the veteran added to his canon of memorable interviews and social-media rants during his second season with the 49ers during the 2019 season. Here are his best in honor of the All-Pro taking another trip around the sun.

The handshake heard -- but not seen -- around the world

Sherman's 49ers stomped on the Cleveland Browns, the darlings of the NFL offseason, in Week 5 on "Monday Night Football." The win established San Francisco as For Real, but Sherman managed to grab the most headlines when he told NFL Media's Mike Silver that Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield didn't shake his hand before the game.

"What's amazing, and annoying, was him not shaking hands at the beginning," Sherman told Silver. "That's some college s--t. It's ridiculous. We're all trying to get psyched up, but shaking hands with your opponent -- that's NFL etiquette. And when you pull bush league stuff, that's disrespectful to the game. And believe me, that's gonna get us fired up."

That's not really what happened, either.

Video revealed that Mayfield did, in fact, shake hands with Sherman before the game, just not a second time. Sherman said he would apologize to Mayfield after the cornerback was caught in a lie, but still managed to turn the fiasco into ... an observation on sports-media priorities in 2019?

"I've said my piece about it," Sherman said in October. "I'm going to have a conversation with him, and then I'm kind of going to be done with it. It’s just funny it got so big. I thought the football game is what they watched for, but I guess it’s the soap opera."

Sherman becomes @OldTakesExposed

Sherman remembered everyone who criticized him signing an incentive-heavy contract with the 49ers as a free agent in 2018.

And I mean everyone.

There's much more nuance to Sherman's contract, as ESPN's Bill Barnwell expertly noted soon after Sherman's dunk session. Yet Sherman showed once again how unsparing he is when vindicated, and it wouldn't be the last time he relished proving people wrong during the 49ers' Super Bowl run.

In his zone

Sherman has long been knocked by critics for being a "zone" cornerback, who have argued that he can't guard the NFL's best receivers 1-on-1. The cornerback lit into those doubters after the 49ers' win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round, when Sherman intercepted Vikes QB Kirk Cousins to set up a San Francisco touchdown.

“People think I’m a zone [cornerback],” he said in January. “[It’s] man! Playoffs! Pick! Gotta have those. You know what I mean?

“But you know what [media] is going to do? They’re going to do what they always do to me. They’re going to make an excuse for why I’m great. They’re going to have an excuse. ‘Oh, it was Kirk Cousins!’ It’s always an excuse. But when somebody does it, it’s like, ‘He’s the best corner.’

“Look, Jalen [Ramsey] was [considered] the greatest corner. But I’m a system corner. We play in the same system! But I’m a system corner. You start to listen and it’s like, ‘Bro, they run the same scheme.’ Like, what are we talking about?”

You will be shocked to learn victory lap continued on Twitter.

[RELATED: 49ers interview Washington prospects for draft]

Corner vs. Corner

There are no two questions more boring than "Is Player X Elite?" and "Is Player Y Better Than Player Z?" Well, unless you happen to be one of Players X, Y or Z.

Longtime NFL cornerback Darrelle Revis sustained hours of sports-talk radio and debate television when he blasted Sherman on Twitter in the aftermath of the 49ers' NFC Championship Game win over the Green Bay Packers, drudging up the old criticism of Sherman not being good enough in man-to-man coverage.

Sherman, understandably, wasn't having it.

"You're going to have to get an interview with him and talk to him about it," Sherman said on "The Rich Eisen Show." "I really got nothing for him, but he seems to have too much time on his hands or something. I think it's one of those where a guy who thinks more of himself than the world thinks of him, feels like I'm getting more credit than I deserve or something like that. Obviously, his stats don't match my stats so he's trying to find other ways to make himself relevant in the conversation."

All professional athletes think they can stack up with the best their sport has to offer. Few are as vocal about it as Sherman.