This should be the motto for the San Francisco 49ers in 2021 as this needs to part of the discussion with a large number of key players on the roster.
Throughout free agency, the 49ers were able to bring back a number of veterans on short term deals. Among those that decided to return to San Francisco were veteran defensive backs, Jason Verrett, Jaquiski Tartt and K’Waun Williams. Verrett, Tartt and Williams all personify the “If healthy” motto.
Jason Verrett was a revelation for the 49ers defense in 2020 when he was moved into the starting role due to, you guessed it, an injury to Richard Sherman. With Verrett in the lineup, Robert Saleh was able to be more aggressive in his attempts to generate a pass rush because, unlike Sherman, Verrett excels in man coverage.
Re-signing Verrett was a bit of a coup for 49ers general manager John Lynch. With the 49ers salary cap situation not looking bright, many expected Verrett to cash in on his successful season in free agency. With teams throughout the league feeling the pinch of the reduced cap due to Covid-19, Verrett did not receive the type of offer that he was looking for, so he decided to bet on himself and return to the 49ers on a one-year deal worth $5.5 million.
The slow free agent market also played to the 49ers advantage with the Tartt and Williams signings. Like Verrett, both veterans signed one-year prove-it deals to remain in San Francisco.
These moves could pay big dividends for San Francisco in 2021 if, say it with me, Verrett, Tartt and Williams stay healthy.
All three have proven that they are among the best at their positions when they are able to stay on the field. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Let’s start with Verrett. The cornerback is now entering his seventh season in the NFL. To this point, he has been able to play at least 13 games in a season on only two occasions: 2015 as a member of the Chargers, and last season.
Like Verrett, Tartt is entering his seventh NFL season. After playing 15 games in his first two seasons with the 49ers, Tartt has been healthy for only 36 regular season games the past four seasons.
Williams is also entering his seventh season in the NFL, spending the first two in Cleveland before joining the 49ers in 2017 as one of the first free agent signings for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. Williams is among the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL, but he has never played a full season, the 15 games played in 2019 being his career high.
The extensive injury histories of these three, coupled with the fact that the schedule has been expanded to 17 games, makes the defensive backfield the biggest area of concern heading into the 2021 season.
This unit has already lost Tarvarius Moore for the season due to a torn Achilles suffered during OTAs, and will likely need to rely heavily on rookies Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir if either of the starting cornerbacks needs to miss time, along with another rookie, Talanoa Hufanga at safety. While Thomas, Lenoir and Hufanga are promising prospects, how they will transition to the NFL is a question mark that rookie defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will need to have an answer for.