What does future hold for 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt?
By Peter Panacy
Injuries have been the primary mark against 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt, and his situation amid a contract year paints an uncertain future.
The San Francisco 49ers are going to go with Jaquiski Tartt at strong safety, not former New York Jets All-Pro safety Jamal Adams who recently found himself traded to the Niners’ NFC West rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, not long ago.
The Niners’ non-trade for Adams is obviously good news for the 28-year-old Tartt, who now finds himself one of the team’s longest-tenured players alongside fellow safety Jimmie Ward entering 2020.
When healthy, Tartt has been a vital piece to San Francisco’s defense. One could argue 2019 was a breakout season for him in which he produced a very solid 66.4 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. Yet there’s one stat that seemingly reveals a major question about Tartt:
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Over the past three seasons, Tartt has missed a total of 19 regular-season games due to various injuries. In 2017 and 2018, he landed on season-ending injured reserve. Last year, it was a ribs injury that set him back.
San Francisco’s defense was far worse with Tartt out of the lineup last year than with him in it, which is one of the reasons Tartt’s backup, Marcell Harris, is going to be under the microscope during training camp.
And while it’s not exactly fair to criticize a player for his health, it does cloud the waters a bit in terms of a team’s long-term plans for him.
Especially in the case of Tartt, who enters a contract year and is the subject of Niner Noise’s latest “Who Is?” installment.
Why Jaquiski Tartt improves with 49ers in 2020
Tartt’s efforts in 2019 came on much stronger once Ward returned to free safety duties after an early finger injury. The two comprised one of the better safety tandems in the league, even if this duo flew under the radar. At the same time, the Niners ranked No. 1 in the league last year against the pass, and Tartt was a big reason why.
Another potential reason was due to coordinator Robert Saleh adjusting his defense so that both safeties were much more interchangeable.
This allowed Tartt to play further off from the line of scrimmage, keeping the action in front of him and honing his coverage skills, which improved from a 58.5 PFF grade in 2018 to 64.7 last year.
Assuming this defensive alignment stays the same in 2020, one would expect another kind of season from Tartt, who’ll also look to capitalize on top production before he hits free agency.
Why Jaquiski Tartt regresses with 49ers in 2020
Again, there’s the injury factor.
Tartt, like Ward, has emerged as one of those players who regularly has to be viewed as an injury risk. It’s not a bold statement to suggest another abbreviated season from Tartt, particularly if it takes place in the latter half and potentially affects a playoff push, would be considered a notable regression and reason for San Francisco to move on in 2021.
While there’s always the possibility Tartt shows some kind of on-field regression, the bigger worry is whether or not he’ll be available the entire season.
Availability is the best ability here.
Projected role in 2020, long-term future with 49ers
As long as Tartt stays healthy, he’ll be the team’s No. 1 option at strong safety. His ability and experience at free safety also opens up the door to back up Ward, too, which is a good element to have.
Yet the kicker is whether or not Tartt figures into the team’s long-term plans beyond this upcoming season. With the 2021 salary cap expected to drop to $175 million, and the 49ers already on the hook for roughly $173 million in player contracts next year, re-signing Tartt seems much less likely barring some major changes elsewhere on the roster.
Tartt’s injury history factors into the equation, too. San Francisco won’t want to spend market-value dollar on a player who missed so many games over the last three seasons. And while Harris might not be a long-term option, the undrafted rookie Jared Mayden could eventually be a fill-in option on the cheap if the team elects not to bring Tartt back.
Regardless, Tartt has a lot on the line for himself as well, and playing a complete 16-game season would be a major step towards cashing in on a sizable free-agent or re-sign deal in 2021.
In the meantime, the Niners merely hope he’ll be available for the entire year before worrying about what comes later.