The San Francisco 49ers are likely going to spend a bit in NFL free agency this offseason, although an under-the-radar signing would be Chicago Bears nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan.
Upgrading the secondary should be a chief objective for the San Francisco 49ers in 2019. Outside of veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, the Niners defensive backfield dealt with an alarming amount of injuries and inconsistency last season.
As such, no one’s job should be safe entering this offseason.
Armed with over $60 million in projected cap space, San Francisco can afford to be a bit aggressive on the open NFL free agency market. And while big names, such as Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas, will garner the wish lists of most fans, another defensive back should be right up there in terms of potential free-agent targets.
Chicago Bears free-agent nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan.
Callahan is coming into his prime at 27 years old. Last year, amid a Bears defense that ranked No. 1 in interceptions in 2018 (27), the former Rice defensive back managed two picks of his own and six passes broken up. Those numbers could bode well for a Niners defense that boasted a record-low two interceptions last year.
Some may think targeting a player like Callahan in NFL free agency would be a bit redundant. Williams wasn’t terrible in 2018, per se, and the Niners appear to have an up-and-coming talent in one-year pro D.J. Reed. Yet Callahan is an upgrade over the two, and PFF’s Michael Renner explained why a nickel back shouldn’t cost too much on the open market and why the value exceeds a would-be cost:
"Slot cornerbacks rarely get paid in free agency, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. In fact, our data found that targeting the slot was actually more valuable than receivers split wide. Over the last two seasons, targeting Callahan in the slot has netted opposing quarterbacks a passer rating of 74.3 (2017) and 78.9 (2018) – both top-five figures each season."
First, there’s the trend of NFL teams using 11-personnel formations (three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back) more and more these days, mandating the nickel spot as a starter, essentially.
Within the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals have long featured veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald out of the slot, while the NFC champion Los Angeles Rams will look forward to getting two-year pro wideout Cooper Kupp back from a torn ACL in 2019.
Signing Callahan this offseason would likely mean the 49ers parting ways with Williams and relegating Reed to a backup role, which would be fine. San Francisco’s depth was tested to the extreme in 2018, and Reed has proven himself a capable fill-in starter. But he might not be much more.
Callahan, meanwhile, would vastly improve a beleaguered Niners secondary.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, subscribe
to PFF’s EDGE or ELITE subscriptions at ProFootballFocus.com.