San Francisco 49ers: Projecting 53-Man Roster in 2016
By Peter Panacy
Free Safety: Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward, L.J. McCray
Strong Safety: Antoine Bethea, Jaquiski Tartt
The safety position will be one of interest in 2016 largely due to what may happen at the cornerback position this season. We’ll get to that shortly.
Safety Eric Reid isn’t going anywhere, so he’s a shoo-in starter. But the same can’t exactly be said of veteran safety Antoine Bethea.
Bethea is on the wrong side of 30 years old and, despite his veteran prowess and leadership, the 49ers might be looking to get younger and cheaper across the board. Bethea certainly isn’t in San Francisco’s long-term plans anymore, but at what point does he become a cut candidate?
Part of the thought here is defensive back Jimmie Ward could move from his slot corner position to his natural safety position at some point soon. It’s what general manager Trent Baalke hinted at following the 2016 NFL Draft, per Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News:
If Ward stays at nickel back, second-year safety Jaquiski Tartt could be a strong candidate to fill the void. The former second-round pick might be envisioned as a hybrid-type safety, who can occupy an inside linebacker spot in sub packages, but Tartt did see time (eight games last season) in Bethea’s stead when the latter was lost for the season to a pectoral injury.
But Bethea might be worth keeping around, at least for the start of the season, to see how the young crop of corners develop and what Ward’s future might hold.
And backup safety L.J. McCray is one of the better special teams aces on the roster.