The 49ers did not plan well for the situation they face at cornerback this offseason.
Eight different players started games for the 49ers last season at the cornerback positions. Not one of those players is under contract to the 49ers for 2021.
With the NFL’s negotiating window set to open on March 15, the two players the 49ers have likely prioritized re-signing are cornerback Jason Verrett and nickelback K’Waun Williams.
It seems doubtful they can bring back both players.
As much as the 49ers would like to retain Williams and Verrett, it also seems reasonable they would face stiff competition from the New York Jets. Former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has a well-known affinity for both players. And the Jets are in a better salary-cap position than the 49ers.
The 49ers’ defensive backfield is likely to undergo a transformation this offseason.
Richard Sherman has stated he expects a mutual parting with the organization. Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round pick in 2017, appears likely to move on as an unrestricted free agent. Witherspoon was a constant source of frustration for coach Kyle Shanahan over the past three seasons.
Emmanuel Moseley, scheduled to be a restricted free agent, should return to play a significant role. The 49ers are expected to make an effort to re-sign versatile veteran Dontae Johnson.
The 49ers are in a predicament in their defensive backfield because they have not done much to restock the position group in recent years.
The highest pick the 49ers have used on a cornerback over the past three drafts was a 2018 fifth-round selection on D.J. Reed.
But the 49ers made the regrettable decision in August to release Reed after he sustained a torn pectoral in the offseason.
The 49ers took a calculated risk that no team would claim him. But the Seattle Seahawks swooped in, and Reed ended up playing a significant role for the NFC West champs down the stretch.
Moseley is a key factor in the 49ers’ offseason, and he is an affordable priority to bring back.
Moseley already has proven he can be a reliable cornerback. If the 49ers are convinced Moseley can play the slot, the club could let Williams walk and focus on re-signing Verrett.
Then, the 49ers could use the No. 12 overall pick on a starting cornerback, such as Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley or Alabama’s Patrick Surtain Jr.
Otherwise, the 49ers could focus on bringing back Williams and pairing Moseley on the outside with a high draft pick.
Verrett made $3 million over the past two seasons with the 49ers. After proving his worth in 2020, he figures to be in line for a sizable pay bump. But how much is too much? Could he command $4 million, $5 million annually on a short-term contract?
Williams averaged approximately $2.4 million over the past four seasons with the 49ers.
The price for either Williams or Verrett might not seem exorbitant, but the Jets’ competition could drive up the price to a point where it would be unlikely the 49ers can manage to re-sign both of them.