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Cheap Free Agents the 49ers Should Target, Part 2 — Corners

The 49ers must prioritize cornerback through the draft and by re-signing a few of their free agents.

The San Francisco 49ers have lots of needs to address this offseason, but none are as pressing as the potentially barren cornerback situation. 

Last week, I addressed cheap safeties the 49ers could target. For the second installment, we’re moving down the defense by taking a look at bargain cornerbacks who might not be starting-caliber, but would provide depth for under $2 million. 

The 49ers must prioritize cornerback through the draft and by re-signing a few of their free agents. 

Four of San Francisco’s five outside corners (Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon and Dontae Johnson) are unrestricted free agents, while the top two in the slot (K’Waun Williams and Jamar Taylor) are also headed toward the open market. 

The lone exception is Emmanuel Moseley, but he himself could be on the move as an exclusive rights free agent. 

It would be ideal to re-sign at least three of the corners above, but there’s no guarantee. 

New defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans might be starting his first cornerback group from scratch. 

Fortunately, they’re some intriguing/inexpensive free agents to supplement depth. 

Fabian Moreau would be a great place to start when looking for cheap alternatives. The former Washington corner played sparingly in 2020, but impressed in spurts. 

He was targeted 11 times this season according to Pro Football Reference, and intercepted two of those passes. He had another three interceptions in 2019. 

Moreau is not perfect. He surrenders lots of open passes. But when it comes to rebuilding depth, a 27-year-old, 6’0 corner who has a knack for intercepting passes is a good place to start. 

If the 49ers can get Moreau for under $2 million, he would be great insurance for Witherspoon signing elsewhere. 

One veteran that could fill the leadership role vacated by a departed Sherman would be 15-year veteran Johnathan Joseph. 

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Joseph, who had one interception, one forced fumble and six pass deflections in 2020, was actually Ryans’ teammate in 2011 with Houston. 

He’s no longer the shutdown corner he was then, but he would provide depth at a low-cost ($2 million in 2020), similar to what Johnson ($856K) did the previous two seasons. 

Joseph would take Johnson’s reserve role, while also bringing an upgrade in both talent, and leadership. 

He finished the 2020 season as the 47th-ranked corner on PFF. That’s not great, but when factoring in that every team has two starters, 47th makes for a solid backup. 

If the 49ers are looking for bigger-bodied corners at a low price, Rasul Douglas is an option. 

His on-field production has yet to really arrive in his four seasons, but his physical traits are hard to ignore. 

The 6’2, 2017 third-round pick by Philadelphia started 11 games for Carolina in 2020 and turns 27 in August. 

If the 49ers are able to re-sign Witherspoon, Douglas would not be a need. 

Yet, if San Francisco does lose out on its own inconsistent 6’2 cornerback, Douglas would make a cheap alternative, and add size to a division that plays DeAndre Hopkins and D.K. Metcalf twice a year. 

Finally, Taylor looked like a perfect backup plan to Williams before he tore his ACL Week 12. Now his 2021 availability is in question. 

Former Eagle Cre’von LeBlanc would rebuild the depth at slot corner that was lost with Taylor’s injury. 

LeBlanc had an up-and-down season. In his Week 4 game vs San Francisco, he was burned by George Kittle for 38-yards, but later blasted past Daniel Brunskill for a strip-sack of Nick Mullens. 

Williams is a key re-sign, but in the event he follows Robert Saleh, or signs elsewhere, LeBlanc would provide experience for a potentially youthful defensive backfield. 

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