Ahkello Witherspoon

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.

Emmanuel Moseley gets start, keeps calm in 49ers' win over Packers

Emmanuel Moseley gets start, keeps calm in 49ers' win over Packers

SANTA CLARA -- Emmanuel Moseley does not care to say much. He would prefer to play football and let his actions speak for him.

The 49ers’ cornerback said he learned he would be starting in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday morning. And with his performance, there is no question Moseley will also be lining up the starters in Super Bowl LIV.

“The kid is unflappable,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told NBC Sports Bay Area on the field at Levi’s Stadium as the club was celebrating a 37-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers to set up a showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs in two weeks.

“He’s going to keep grinding. He’s going to do things the right way, and no matter what happens to him, he’s still going to play every play like it’s the next play. And he’s going to give you his best.”

Moseley officially took over as the starting cornerback ahead of Ahkello Witherspoon, who experienced recent struggles that forced the 49ers’ coaching staff to bench him in the previous two games.

And with veteran Richard Sherman on the other side, Moseley figured Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would try to go after him on Sunday.

But Moseley came through in a big way. On five passes Rodgers directed toward him, Moseley gave up just three receptions for 34 yards. And his interception with one minute left in the first half, enabled the 49ers to add another touchdown for a 27-0 lead at halftime.

“Big, man, big,” Moseley said in describing the importance of the play. “I really dreamed about it. This whole week I’ve been saying, ‘Let’s make a game-changing play, a game-changing play.’ I was blessed with that opportunity and I was able to take it away.

“I just saw the receiver go up the field. The first receiver stopped. And I saw Aaron about to throw the ball and I just took my shot.”

The 49ers took their shot with Moseley after the completion of the 2018 draft, signing him as an undrafted player from Tennessee. Moseley started out on the 49ers’ practice squad before a midseason promotion to the active roster as a rookie.

However, Moseley’s season was over shortly after it began when he sustained a dislocated shoulder. This year, he won a roster spot and started nine games during the regular season after Witherspoon was sidelined with an injury.

When Witherspoon struggled in the previous two games against Seattle and Minnesota, Moseley was called upon. And he delivered.

“Just super happy for him,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “That's my guy. We came in together. And he's had to scratch and claw his way into the role he has now. And, I mean, I got so much respect for him, the way he comes to work day-in and day-out, making the big play in the biggest moment to get our team that momentum. The guy's outstanding. We're going to keep riding.”

[RELATEDGrade on offense, defense in NFC title win over Packers]

Moseley, 23, seems to be built for games and moments like these. He said he believes in himself. Moseley exudes an inner confidence. He said he remained calm despite playing on such a big stage. He said he gets his demeanor from his parents, who are much the same way.

“You got to be calm, man,” he said. “If you get too hot, that’s when things don’t go right.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)

Source: 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley to start in NFC Championship Game

Source: 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley to start in NFC Championship Game

SANTA CLARA -- Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley will return to the starting lineup in the NFC Championship Game, a league source told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday morning.

Moseley will take over as the starter at right cornerback against the Green Bay Packers to replace Ahkello Witherspoon, who started the 49ers’ past six games. Moseley’s matchup against Packers star receiver Davante Adams figures to be one of the keys to Sunday’s game.

The 49ers and Packers meet at Levi’s Stadium at 3:40 p.m. PT with the winning team earning a trip to Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 2.

Moseley replaced Witherspoon in both of the 49ers’ past two games. When Witherspoon struggled, Moseley entered the game for the final drive of the 49ers’ Week 17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Moseley made a pass breakup in the end zone to help the 49ers preserve a 26-21 victory that clinched the NFC West title and homefield advantage in the playoffs.

Last week, Moseley took over after Witherspoon was beaten early in the game for a 41-yard touchdown from Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs. It was the Vikings’ only touchdown in the 49ers’ 27-10 victory.

After being benched, Witherspoon approached 49ers special-teams coordinator Richard Hightower on the sideline and asked to assume all of Moseley’s responsibilities in the kicking game.

Witherspoon has started 30 of the 37 games in which he has appeared since the 49ers selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft.

[RELATEDFive 49ers to watch vs. Packers: George Kittle takes center stage]

Moseley started eight games at right cornerback this season when Witherspoon missed extended playing time due to a foot sprain. Moseley also started a game at left cornerback when Richard Sherman was out against the Atlanta Falcons with a hamstring injury.

Moseley is a second-year pro from Tennessee. The 49ers signed him in 2018 as an undrafted free agent. He saw action in just one game as a rookie before sustaining a season-ending dislocated shoulder.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.