Back on March 15, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila tweeted about how the San Francisco 49ers were in serious discussions with Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson. Fans scoffed. Warren G spoke out on behalf of Raider Nation. A little more than two weeks later, Asomugha signed an incentive-laden deal that basically puts San Francisco at little to no risk.
Charles Woodson is still available, and it would seem safe to assume the 49ers offered him a similar deal to the one Asomugha agreed to yesterday. There’s a huge difference in each player’s respective situations, as Asomugha would’ve received $4 million from the Philadelphia Eagles even if he sat around his house eating Bagel Bites all day. Woodson doesn’t have that kind of security. He’s also five years older than Asomugha and already has a Super Bowl ring, although that doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t want to play for a contender.
As with Asomugha, Trent Baalke and the 49ers know that they hold the advantage with Woodson due to lack of interest from other teams. Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the reunion AGB referred to back in mid-March could still happen.
Asomugha wouldn’t comment until he signs the deal Wednesday morning, but a source close to him said he is “very excited” and “coming back with a chip on his shoulder.”
It’s possible that he won’t be coming alone. His good friend and former Raiders and Packers safety Charles Woodson is still a free agent after visiting the 49ers last month, and the two would love to play together again.
“It’s definitely still in play,” the source said.
Asomugha isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, since the 49ers already have three starting-caliber corners in Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver. While Woodson is certainly better than free agent signee Craig Dahl, he only played seven games last year and turns 37 in October. Woodson could sign with another team or maybe even retire, but if he does come to San Francisco it could mean a huge shift in how they use their defensive personnel next season.
Heading into last year, the 49ers’ defensive strength came in the form of great players, sure. Also much-heralded was the unit’s continuity. All 11 starters returned, and most of them played the vast majority of the time. The four players who played the most defensive snaps were all defensive backs: Donte Whitner (1,257), Rogers (1,255), Brown (1,249) and Dashon Goldson (1,245). Nine players played at least 1,100 snaps, and Justin Smith (1,018) would have if he didn’t get injured. Culliver was on the field for 820 plays, with the next defensive back on the list (Perrish Cox) only taking part in 189 plays. No other 49ers defensive back played more than 36 snaps.
With continuity arguably came exhaustion and regression in the second half of the season. The 49ers allowed 15.8 points, 277.2 yards and 182.9 passing yards per game in the first 10 games of 2012. In the last nine games (including the playoffs), San Francisco surrendered 25.3 points, 348.2 yards and 254.7 passing yards per contest. Some of that could be chalked up to better opponents and Justin Smith’s injury, but there’s also a chance that the team’s best defensive players were simply out of gas by the time January rolled around.
The top level talent on the 49ers’ defense was nothing short of elite, but they were overworked and overtaxed last season. While the established players would push back if asked to become part-time players, they all played nearly every single snap because the 49ers didn’t have great depth. Besides Justin Smith, the 49ers had pretty good luck on the defensive side in terms of health. However, the lack of high-quality backups also forced players to play through injuries. Aldon Smith played through a torn labrum throughout the last part of the season, and the defensive backs were seen on the injury reports throughout the season due to various knee, hamstring, toe, and shoulder ailments. Brown in particular was limited in practice more often than not as the season went along, but every player was dealing with something.
It’s obvious that teams want to stockpile as much talent as possible, and the draft will certainly help in that regard. But the Asomugha signing shows the 49ers don’t want a situation where there’s nobody else beyond Culliver besides Cox and Tramaine Brock. If they end up bringing on Woodson, it would be another signal that the top four defensive backs on the team probably won’t play close to 100% of the snaps next season.