Jason Verrett

Why 49ers CEO Jed York isn't concerned about injured players on roster

Why 49ers CEO Jed York isn't concerned about injured players on roster

PHOENIX — The 49ers have been known for signing players that were recovering from major injuries, but team brass believes that their 2019 group is different. 

In the not-so-distant past, the 49ers had the dubious nickname “Team ACL.” Running back Marcus Lattimore, defensive end Tank Carradine, offensive lineman Brandon Thomas and defensive back Keith Reaser were all acquired with the hope that they would return to their pre-ACL injury abilities. 

Fast forward to 2019 and the team has brought a few more players to Santa Clara after suffering significant injuries. Granted these players were acquired through free agency as opposed to the draft, but their abilities after surgery are still to be determined.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander inked a four-year, $54 million contract with the team even though he is recovering from ACL surgery. 49ers CEO Jed York explained why he is confident in the 24 year-old’s return, even if it’s not immediately. 

“There’s no reason why he can’t recover for an ACL,” York said. “He’s done it before, I think it was in high school when he had an ACL and he’s recovered. Kwon is the type of kid that he’ll be ready to go but we made a long term investment in Kwon. 

“We’re not going to force him if he’s not ready to play Week 1, that was a big conversation that we had. This is a guy that we want to be here for a long period of time. We’re not going to force him to be ready. Every indication is that he will be ready.” 

General manager John Lynch explained that Alexander can report to the facility as early as April 2 to start working with the 49ers training and medical staff. 

“As an injured player you can be part of the offseason and we can get our hands on him. We know he was in good hands with the Bucs but all of the sudden, once we acquire him, he can no longer continue doing his rehab with (them)” 

Lynch also emphasized that the plan for Alexander is long term. 

“When you do a deal like that, you want the return right away but we had discussions,” Lynch said. “When you’re making an investment like this, we’ve got to make sure he’s right. So we will hold true to that. 

“From all accounts of our conversations with the people from the Buccaneers, he’s on track. We’re going to do what’s right by him. This is a long term relationship with us. With any player we are going to make sure they are right when they are out there.” 

Cornerback Jason Verrett is a little further along in his recovery than Alexander. He suffered an Achilles injury at the beginning of training camp last summer. He will remain in Southern California where he has been training during the offseason until he reports for OTAs. 

“That’s part of the deal in free agency,” York said. “There’s very few perfect guys in free agency and the perfect deal. 

“It’s not a buyer’s market, so you have to take some risk and I think we got unbelievably character driven people and great football players and it might take all of them a little bit of time to get ready to get out there and play but we aren’t playing for August or September.”  

The 49ers potentially took risks with edge rusher Dee Ford who had back surgery after the 2017 season and receiver Jordan Matthews who has dealt with knee issues in the past. They also have yet to see what defensive lineman Kentavius Street is capable of.  He tore his ACL in a pre-draft work out prior to the 49ers selecting him in the fourth round.

[RELATED: 49ers expect Sherman to be 'much improved]

York reiterated that no one will be rushed back to play as the goal is for long term productivity. 

“We’re playing for later in the season and making sure that we have the team that gets us to January."

49ers expect 'much-improved' Richard Sherman after playing at '80 percent'

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49ers expect 'much-improved' Richard Sherman after playing at '80 percent'

A case could be made that the most susceptible area of the 49ers' defense is in the secondary.

However, there is reason to believe it should perform better than last year, and that's even before adding reinforcements in the upcoming NFL draft.

That's because Richard Sherman -- far and away the 49ers' best cornerback last season -- is healthier now than he was then, according to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer.

"I’m told that Richard Sherman was at no better than 80% last year, and he only got there after significant improvement in early November, right around when the Niners played the Giants," Breer wrote in his Monday Morning Quarterback column.

"As such, San Francisco expects a much-improved version of the former All-Pro, which would give the roster a boost at a position where Ahkello Witherspoon struggled last year and Jason Verrett was added last month," Breer continued. "Another thing that should help: Sherman had surgery to have sutures, initially put in as part of the rehab process, removed from his heel after the season, and he’s felt a lot better since."

Despite recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, Sherman was able to perform at a similar level to his All-Pro years in Seattle this past season. He didn't record an interception, but he only allowed one reception every 20.2 coverage snaps according to Pro Football Focus, the third-best mark among all cornerbacks in the NFL.

Simply put, opposing quarterbacks didn't want to risk throwing at Sherman.

In addition to his value on the field, Sherman also served as an important veteran voice in the 49ers’ locker room and an extension of the coaching staff. With a defensive backfield that features young players such as Witherspoon, Tarvarius Moore, Adrian Colbert, D.J. Reed and others, Sherman will continue to have a role as an elder statesman.

The 49ers already have made some significant additions on defense this offseason with the trade for edge rusher Dee Ford and signing of linebacker Kwon Alexander. They're expected to further bolster the defense with the second overall pick in the upcoming draft, and suddenly San Francisco could have the makings of one of the league’s better front-seven alignments.

[RELATED: 49ers want their defensive line to be a 'dominant force']

If Sherman is considerably healthier than he was last year, though? Well, that could help transform the 49ers' biggest weakness into a strength.

And, given the additions to the front seven, perhaps a few more interceptions should be expected.

49ers expect heavy cornerback competition opposite of Richard Sherman

49ers expect heavy cornerback competition opposite of Richard Sherman

One of the better competitions leading into the start of the regular season could be at cornerback, where two recent third-round draft picks and an injury-plagued first-rounder will be going after one starting job.

That’s assuming, of course, that Richard Sherman is already locked in as the starter on the other side.

“I anticipate that,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said this week at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix.

“Everybody on our team is competing at every position. We brought Sherm in here to be a starter. That’s what we’re expecting. But his position is no different from every other position.”

Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore, the 49ers’ most recent third-round draft picks, and Jason Verrett are going after the other starting job. Verrett, however, has appeared in just 25 games in the five years since he entered the NFL as a first-round pick of the Chargers. After being plagued by shoulder and knee injuries through the first few seasons of his career, Verrett missed all of last year with a torn Achilles.

He signed a one-year, $3.6 million contract with the 49ers on the second day of free agency.

“Coming out of college and the time he has played in the NFL, he’s played at an extremely high level, so we feel very fortunate to get a player like him,” Shanahan said of Verrett. “Just meeting the guy, you see him on tape and you can tell he’s special. Having him out to the building, going out to dinner with him and stuff, you can tell he’s a special guy too.”

Verrett is not expected to participate fully in the 49ers’ offseason program, but Shanahan said he believes Verrett will be ready to compete for a job at the beginning of training camp.

Verrett (5-foot-10, 188 pounds) does not fit the prototype for a cornerback in the Seahawks-based defensive scheme. But Shanahan does not believe that places Verrett at an inherent disadvantage.

“I think that gets a little overrated,” Shanahan said of a cornerback's height. “I know we do have Sherm. I know Ahkello’s tall and Tarvarius is, too. They also can run and they can cover. I wouldn’t overrate that stuff.

“The No. 1 thing I look for in a corner is people who can cover people. So you need that in everybody. Verrett has done that. He’s played outside. He’s played inside. He has good man-to-man skills. He can play zone, also. So he fits right into our group. I just hope he’s healthy.”

[RELATED: Richard Sherman gives new 49ers corner Jason Verrett stamp of approval]

Shanahan said he expects the cornerbacks to be able to play on either side -- a must, he said, when the defense is in man coverage or merely to establish depth to account for injuries.

“We want them to be interchangeable,” Shanahan said. “You’re one injury away so you want to mix them all around in both spots.”