The San Francisco 49ers picked up oft-injured cornerback Jason Verrett in free agency in 2019 who, if healthy, could provide a major boost to a beleaguered Niners secondary this season.
Surprisingly, the Niners weren’t particularly aggressive during the offseason to address this. Moves in both free agency and the NFL Draft were limited, to say the least, and the biggest one comes with some notable question marks.
On the surface, San Francisco’s free-agent add of former Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett looks like a good one. Despite his shortish 5-foot-10 frame, Verrett made his mark playing on the outside and matchup up with bigger, taller wide receivers.
And the former first-round pick even earned a 2015 Pro Bowl nod, too.
But the caveat here is Verrett comes with a massive injury history, having played in just five regular-season games dating back to the start of 2016:
Verret dealt with both hamstring and labrum injuries his rookie year, had a foot issue during his “fully” healthy 2015 campaign, saw his 2016 efforts were cut short by a knee injury, which carried over into 2017. And in 2018, Verrett suffered a torn Achilles in training camp, ending his season before it even began.
So it’s no wonder the Niners inked Verrett to a one-year, “prove it” kind of deal.
If healthy, there’s a solid chance he could make a serious impact.
Keyword being “if,” of course.
Why Jason Verrett Improves in 2019
Well, it’s hard to be at much worse a situation than Verrett has been the past two seasons. So, simply put, merely being on the field for a large chunk of 2019 would indicate a notable improvement.
“We’re putting a plan together with the coaches and the trainers, and I feel the plan is going to be real useful for me,” Verrett told reporters (h/t 49ers Webzone) last month.
During that Pro Bowl campaign back in 2015, PFF awarded Verrett with a 90.9 coverage grade on the year — tied for highest among qualifiers, which is a good indication what kind of player he can be when healthy.
It also helps Verrett is returning to a similar style of defense to what he experienced with the Chargers. While there are some variations, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh operates a scheme not totally different to what Chargers coordinator Gus Bradley runs.
Both Saleh and Bradley stem from the same Seattle Seahawks coaching tree.
Why Jason Verrett Regresses
There’s more to the possibility of injury affecting Verrett’s ability to improve this season.
That’s an overwhelming concern, sure. And the recent history suggests another setback teeters on the verge of likelihood.
More importantly, though, Verrett hasn’t exactly played a lot of meaningful football over the past few years. If you’re looking at the proverbial “rest versus rust” factor, it’s real here. And while the 28 year old is still in his prime, essentially, one can see how such an extended period time off the field could have its setbacks.
Especially considering Verrett has yet to participate in team-on-team drills this offseason and isn’t scheduled to return until training camp later this month.
Projected Role and Impact with the 49ers in 2019
Assuming Verrett stays healthy between now and Week 1, there’s little reason to assume he won’t make the 53-man roster.
That’s a question mark, health-wise, but the bigger one would be whether or not he can secure the No. 2 cornerback job opposite the veteran, Richard Sherman. Verrett’s likely competition in training camp and the preseason is third-year pro Ahkello Witherspoon, who is coming off a bad 2018 campaign, but looked awfully solid during organized team activities.
Ideally, the Niners would prefer Witherspoon to win this bout. After all, he’s younger and has far less the injury history. San Francisco has much more invested in Witherspoon, too, and the camp competition could do him some good anyway.
Even if Verrett wows between now and Week 1, it wouldn’t be overly shocking to see the 49ers bring him along slowly, putting him in situations where he won’t have to risk additional injury as much.
Still, it’s going to be hard to ignore the three-interception, 12 passes-defended campaign Verrett flashed back in 2015. If that’s the kind of player the Niners wind up getting in 2019, he’ll be on the field a lot.