With the eve of NFL free agency upon us, the San Francisco 49ers have some decisions to make in regards to their secondary. Safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown are set to hit the open market and both could receive offers far north of what the 49ers are willing to pay. There are rumors that the New York Jets have interest in Whitner and, considering other cornerbacks are signing for big pay days, Brown could cash in as well.
In addition to Whitner and Brown, San Francisco also faces a decision on cornerback Carlos Rogers, as he is due to make $6.25 million in 2014. Considering his declining play over the past two seasons, the 49ers are not inclined to spend that much of their cap space on Rogers and he will most likely be cut. The move would save the team around $5 million, but leave them depleted on the back of their defense (at least for now).
If all three players are let go, the 49ers would be without three of the four players who started for the team last season (Brown was replaced by Tramaine Brock after getting injured, but did return to the first team in Rogers’ place during the playoffs when he was also hurt). While the moves may all make sense financially, will San Francisco be creating a gap that’s too large to fill in 2014?
The team has up and coming free safety Eric Reid to anchor the group, but he is only entering his second NFL season. Brock played very well in 2013, but has never started a full 16 game slate. As of right now, he is the team’s top corner.
Beyond Reid and Brock there are nothing but question marks. Cornerback Chris Culliver is coming off a season ending knee injury and it may be asking too much to expect him to come in and be able to start right away. The only other two in house safety options are Craig Dahl and C.J Spillman, and both of them seem to be better suited for special teams.
While the team can (and most likely will) address the secondary in the draft, it would probably benefit them to not have more than one rookie starting or playing significant minutes next year. Look for the 49ers to try and add a veteran or two at safety and corner should Whitner and Brown sign elsewhere.
While the team won’t break the bank for a free agent, there may be a few veterans who could come cheap. Antonio Cromartie, Charles Tillman and Asante Samuel are conerbacks that will be 30 years old or older when the season starts and might sign short term deals. As far as safety, an intriguing name is former Indianapolis Colt Antoine Bethea. He is unlikely to resign with Indianapolis and might be a player who could move over to strong safety at a reasonable price tag for the next couple of years.
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