The San Francisco 49ers needed to upgrade their secondary.
There was no doubting that, especially after the problems the 49ers encountered during the playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens. Then, Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson left the team via free agency, signing a five-year, $41.25 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
San Francisco immediately tried to address Goldson's departure with the signing of former Rams safety Craig Dahl, but it is reasonable to assume the 49ers are still looking to make additional upgrades at the position.
There are also legitimate concerns regarding San Francisco's corners. Incumbents Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver expect to receive plenty of playing time next season despite disappointing performances, especially during the playoffs.
The need to upgrade the 49ers' secondary gained weight during both free agency and their preparations for the 2013 NFL draft. CBS Sports analyst Pat Kirwan has the 49ers drafting Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks with their first-round pick, number 31 overall (cbssports.com).
Yet the 49ers were expressing interest elsewhere; an interest that eventually landed them former Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Asomugha signed a one-year, $1.35 million contract with San Francisco last Wednesday.
After the contract was made official, Asomugha stated:
It definitely feels good being back here. I started out here in college, so it feels good, the familiarity is here. I don't have to acclimate to a new culture and new surroundings. The focus can be on football, so that's a beautiful thing. (via sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
The move is a smart one for the 49ers. At $1.35 million (none of it guaranteed), San Francisco is spending almost nothing for a former Pro Bowl corner, once considered to be the best in the game. Asomugha, who thrived during his first eight years with the Oakland Raiders, was a bust with the Philadelphia Eagles (pro-football-reference.com).
Only signing him for a one-year deal, the 49ers are in perfect position to "wait and see" what Asomugha does in 2013. If he performs well, San Francisco can consider a contract extension. If not, they can cut their minimal losses and move forward.
49ers safety Donte Whitner expects a great year out of Asomugha by saying:
It’s a pretty good pickup for us. We have a young corner in Chris Culliver, veteran guys in Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers and a great defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio. If he comes in and really learns our defense, Vic will do everything that is possible to put all of those guys on the field to make plays at the same time. (via csnbayarea.com)
All signs point to the acquisition as a low-risk, high-reward scenario for the 49ers. Yet how does it affect San Francisco's plans in the upcoming draft?
With 13 picks, the 49ers can make nearly any decision they see fit. Considering San Francisco's relatively few draft needs, it is likely they will be able to move up one or more times to select players of high caliber.
Signing Asomugha may postpone an immediate need at the cornerback position in this year's draft. Grant Cohn, of Yahoo Sports, stated that one of the top needs the 49ers had to address in the draft was a cornerback, especially after seeing what receivers like Julio Jones did to them during last year's playoffs (sports.yahoo.com).
Now with Asomugha in a 49er uniform, the immediate need may not be as pressing. Instead, San Francisco may look to utilize one of their early picks to address other needs, such as a top pass-rusher or a safety.
Yet, Asomugha does not necessarily answer all of the 49ers' questions in the secondary—far from it in fact.
For starters, Asomugha will be 32 when the season starts, and age may likely slow him down. True, he will benefit from playing in 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's system instead of the predominantly zone-coverage system in Philadelphia, but it is entirely possible Asomugha's best years are behind him.
Greg Cosell, senior producer for NFL Films, feels that Asomugha is on the wrong end of his career.
He has not been very good the last two years. If you separate the player from the name, based on the last two years, he is a declining player who is near the end of his career. He did not play well the last two years, and the fact that he was on the market for so long at a premium position and then signed a one-year deal tells you all you need to know. (via csnbayarea.com)
At worst, Asomugha will at least provide some competition on the 49ers' depth chart and challenge anyone potentially drafted at the position.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that Brown is set to be a free agent after this season. With the cautionary approach to Asomugha, as well as the potential departure of Brown, San Francisco will should not disregard their needs at corner.
The 49ers will probably pass on Banks in the first round and may even wait until the second or third rounds of the draft to find a long-term solution. David Amerson, out of North Carolina State, may be a solid pick for San Francisco considering his size, as well as his ability to thrive in press coverage (cbssports.com).
He is projected to be drafted in the second round so the 49ers may look toward his services.
Even if Amerson, or a similarly talented corner, is not available to the 49ers, San Francisco may still look toward the middle rounds of the draft. Fortunately, this year's cornerback draft class is deep, and the 49ers are in perfect position to grab someone they see fit.
49ers insider Matt Maiocco thinks so. He states:
[E]ven with the addition of Asomugha, the 49ers might not be finished addressing the cornerback position in the offseason. They could look to add a corner in the middle rounds of the draft. The 49ers hold 13 picks in the April 25-27 draft. (csnbayarea.com)
Asomugha's signing has some effect on San Francisco's draft plans. The question is how much. In all likelihood, Asomugha will provide a short-term solution to the secondary's problems and at least give the 49ers some breathing room when it comes to the draft.
He fits an immediate need, but most likely not a long-term one. With that stated, the 49ers will still be considering a cornerback in the draft.
It might just come a round, or two, later than expected.
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