49ers

49ers signed two starting defensive players ... if things go as hoped

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MATT MAIOCCO

49ers signed two starting defensive players ... if things go as hoped

The 49ers entered the free-agent signing period looking to add starters at cornerback and safety.

They did just that last week on the first couple of days of the NFL free-agent signing period ... with a couple of big ifs.

If Jason Verrett remains healthy, he is the favorite to become the team’s starting right cornerback.

If Jimmie Ward remains healthy, he is virtually assured of being the team’s starting free safety.

The 49ers signed both players to one-year, prove-it contracts. Verrett is scheduled to make $3.6 million, while Ward is on the books for $4.5 million, according to the official contract terms Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle first reported.

Both players came out in the 2014 draft. Verrett was the No. 25 overall pick of the Chargers, while the 49ers selected Ward at No. 30. Both remained with their original teams through last season on fifth-year options.

The 49ers kept Ward and managed to lure Verrett to Santa Clara, then struck a deal to prompt him to cancel scheduled trips to Houston and Kansas City. Verrett is rehabbing from Achilles surgery, which he tore during a conditioning test last summer on the first day of training camp.

“With all the things I’ve been through, all you can ask for is an opportunity,” said Verrett, who has appeared in just 25 NFL games due to injuries, including surgeries on his shoulder and knee. “The 49ers came on board. I’m happy I took the visit here and look forward to things in the future.

“The opportunity is there for me. It's wide open. It’s just for me to take it, just for me to get back healthy and get back out there on the football field and do what I know I can do.”

The 49ers invested back-to-back third-round draft picks in cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore. Witherspoon did not lock down the starting job last season after finishing with a lot of momentum and optimism in 2017.

Moore made the conversion from safety in college to cornerback. One of the fastest players on the team, Moore demonstrated some encouraging signs late last season while starting the final two games. Witherspoon, Moore, and Verrett will compete.

“It’s the NFL. There’s going to be competition anywhere you go,” Verrett said. “If you don’t like to compete, you don’t need to be in this league. I’m a competitor and I’m willing to compete with anybody.”

Adrian Colbert entered last offseason as the starter at free safety. But he struggled with inconsistency and appeared in only seven games, going on injured reserve with a severe high-ankle sprain.

Ward started three games at cornerback and four games at free safety. The coaching staff considers him easily one of the team’s best four defensive backs. One of the team's most versatile player, Ward appears to be ticketed to start at free safety.

[RELATED: Sherman speaks highly of Verrett]

“Jimmie Ward has played at an extremely high level throughout his career when he's been healthy,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We all know he's struggled to stay healthy, which has been unfortunate for him.

“He plays very hard. He's very talented. And that's why it's been very hard for him to go out there and get really what he deserves as a player. But, to have Jimmie back here with the talent he has and if he can stay healthy ... we know we've got as good of a safety as we can get.”

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

Much like 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz's top receiving threat on the Philadelphia Eagles happens to be a tight end. But while the former two got great news Thursday with the announcement of George Kittle's and Travis Kelce's respective contract extensions, the latter's future outlook became even darker than it was before.

At this point, it's very difficult to see how Wentz will have Zach Ertz to throw to beyond this coming season. And even if he does, that likely means the Eagles won't be competitive to begin with.

Kittle and Kelce unquestionably are the two premier tight ends in the league -- in that order -- and they're now paid accordingly with the two highest annual salaries ever at the position. There's a shortlist of players in discussion for the next-best tight end in the NFL, and Ertz is on it.

Like Kittle and Kelce prior to signing their extensions, Ertz is under contract beyond the upcoming season. And like Kittle and Kelce rightfully were, he reportedly is seeking a raise commensurate with his production.

However, that's unlikely to come from Philadelphia. The Eagles already were going to be in salary-cap hell next season, and that was before Kittle and Kelce obliterated the previous tight end market.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The Eagles currently are projected to have over $262 million in cap liabilities for next season. Last month, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed that the 2021 salary cap wouldn't drop any lower than $175 million due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But regardless of whether the 2021 cap decreases or remains flat at $198 million, Philadelphia is going to have to cut costs to a significant degree.

Though Ertz carries a $12.4 million cap hit in 2021 in the final season of his current contract, he already seemed to be one of the most likely candidates to be cut by the Eagles, as doing so would create an additional $4.7 million in cap space. Not to mention, they already have a younger, cheaper and arguably better tight end in Dallas Goedert who makes Ertz somewhat redundant.

Assuming the Eagles actually do sign Ertz to an extension, though, that would in all likelihood increase their 2021 cap liabilities and remove their ability to create immediate cap space by cutting him. They're already going to have to part ways with some of the best players on their roster, and signing Ertz to the kind of deal he is looking for would further deplete their depth.

[RELATED: Kittle's record 49ers contract still a huge steal]

Now, the Eagles definitely could lower their 2021 cap liabilities with some creative maneuvering. Look no further than the Chiefs, who managed to sign Mahomes, Kelce and star defensive tackle Chris Jones to humongous contract extensions this offseason despite having exactly $171 in total cap space on March 30. That said, Kansas City was nowhere close to the kind of 2021 cap trouble that Philadelphia already finds itself in, and no matter how creative the Eagles get, it's not going to change the reality of the situation.

That reality would appear to be quite dark whether or not they keep Ertz around.

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Perhaps nobody can relate to Tom Brady better than Joe Montana.

That might be as weird for Brady to read as it was seeing Montana play for Kansas City, considering Brady, a San Mateo native, grew up idolizing the Hall of Fame quarterback and rooting for the 49ers. But Brady has supplanted Dan Marino as sports radio callers' alternative to Montana in age-old "Which QB is better?" debates, and arguably has surpassed Montana as the greatest quarterback ever.

Brady, like Montana, will begin the twilight of his career in a uniform other than the one most associated with his journey to greatness. He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency after spending two decades with the New England Patriots, and Brady told Montana he didn't think his input was valued enough by the Patriots.

"I think that was one of his beefs up there," Montana recalled to USA Today Sports' Mackenzie Salmon in an interview published Wednesday. "He told me, 'They ask my advice, I tell them and then they don't take it.' So, I think he would like a little bit of input and I think they'll probably let him have that, especially with the success he's had."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Montana's two-season tenure with Kansas City is a blip on the NFL's historical record, but he wasn't a bust. Before Patrick Mahomes led the team to back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances during the 2018 and '19 seasons (as well as a win in Super Bowl LIV), Montana was the only QB to lead Kansas City to an AFC Championship Game appearance since the first moon landing. Were it not for a concussion in the '93 conference championship, Montana might've helped Kansas City end its Super Bowl drought a quarter-century before Mahomes did. 

The Buccaneers would almost certainly take that, considering the franchise's anonymity since winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Montana thinks trading Foxboro's frigid winters for Tampa will do wonders for Brady's psyche.

"I think he's gonna have fun," Montana said. "He'll be in a better place for him mentally, he'll be happier and if you look at what they did offensively last year, they threw up some crazy numbers. So you add Tom into the mix and the big knucklehead tight end (Rob Gronkowski), and they'll be fun to watch."

[RELATED: Why Kittle's record 49ers contract still is a huge steal]

Brady, 45, is signed for as many years with Tampa Bay as Montana played with Kansas City. He already has two more Super Bowl rings (six) than his idol, and Brady will aim to top Montana once again by doing what he couldn't and winning a title with a second franchise.

If that happens, Brady and Montana might not end up with much left to relate to after all.