This has been a strange free agency period so far, at least in regards to cornerbacks and safeties. Generally the position of cornerback is thought to have smaller margin for error. Cornerbacks are finely-tuned covering machines, and are usually paid as such. Safeties are the janitors of the secondary, cleaning up messes. If the corners or linebackers don’t do what they’re supposed to or are otherwise engaged, the safeties are there to provide assistance. Cornerbacks are often converted to safeties when their faults outweigh their skills, not the other way around (unless you’re the 2012 Oakland Raiders and your cornerback situation is a complete disaster).
This year, the bottom dropped out of the cornerback market. Whether it’s because the available free agents just aren’t that great or everyone is waiting to see where Darrelle Revis lands, teams are in no hurry to hand out mega-deals. For 49ers fans dumbfounded over the team’s apathetic response to Dashon Goldson’s contract expiring, just look at his contract: five years, $41.25 million, $18 million guaranteed. The most a corner has signed for thus far? The Detroit Lions re-signed Chris Houston for to a five-year, $25 million contract ($9.5 million guaranteed).
This all may very well change, with Sean Smith signing with the Chiefs today and well-known players like Antoine Winfield and Nnamdi Asomugha now available after getting released. Asomugha is visiting the 49ers today, according to Matt Maiocco.
The 49ers are in need of a safety, though. So why did Charles Woodson leave town without a contract? Why is Ed Reed visiting with the Texans first and not the 49ers? If the 49ers’ cornerbacks were above average statistically last season, why are the 49ers messing around with Asomugha?
This is a case of the 49ers observing the market and reacting appropriately, and not forcing the issue. Vic Fangio probably has recurring nightmares of Julio Jones torching the secondary, and unlike Anquan Boldin the 49ers can’t just trade for Jones. San Francisco wants a taller cornerback. Asomugha is over six feet tall. He’s also guaranteed to make $4 million from the Eagles in 2013, so the 49ers may be working hard to convince him that to sign a reasonably priced, possibly incentive-laden contract to play for a team in his home state where he could rebuild his battered reputation. He also gives us a chance to use this GIF that Ruthless Sports Guy told me I absolutely have to use:
The 49ers see an opportunity to upgrade their cornerback situation without crushing their cap. They also knew going into this offseason that they wouldn’t need to overpay for a safety (and make no mistake, the Buccaneers spent WAY too much on Goldson), because they have options.
- They have a wealth of draft picks in a safety-rich draft.
- There are plenty of free agent safeties out there (Louis Delmas is also visiting the 49ers).
- They have Chris Culliver.
I’ve brought up the idea of Culliver replacing Goldson before in a post titled “49ers will probably have at least one new starting safety in 2013,” and the more I think about it the more sense this makes — and not just because he was expected to play safety leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft and heading into his rookie season. Culliver needs to turn the page from last season, for reasons we all know. He’s athletic enough to play corner, and made several pass deflections during the early part of the 2012 season that made him look like perhaps the best cover man on the team. But teams targeted him late in the season and throughout the playoffs, and Artie Lange targeted him during Super Bowl week as an easy mark. Culliver may have gotten toasted by the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII even if he didn’t make those ignorant comments about homosexuals in the locker room, but it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. The idea of simply throwing Culliver back out there as the No. 3 corner in September and hoping he’s over his nightmarish Super Bowl experience seems incredibly foolish.
Culliver promised to undergo sensitivity training in the wake of his comments, and he recently spent a day visiting with The Trevor Project. Not to equate changing positions on a football field with becoming more tolerant, but I sense the 49ers would be okay with Culliver reinventing himself both as a person as a player, especially since he has better coverage skills than Goldson and comes much cheaper than “The Hawk” or your average free agent safety.