49ers should bolster cornerback depth with Casey Hayward
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers seemingly have their cornerback crop set for 2021, but adding a cheap veteran like Casey Hayward might help secure the depth chart.
In all likelihood, the San Francisco 49ers aren’t going to make too many more moves between now and the start of the 2021 NFL Draft on April 29, but that doesn’t mean they should avoid exploring some options.
Entering the offseason, cornerback was one area of specific need, yet the Niners managed to retain defensive backs Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Mosely in NFL free agency, likely putting that group as the starting trio for 2021 unless a rookie corner selected in the draft ascends to the top of the depth chart.
That said, it sure wouldn’t hurt San Francisco to go after someone like still-available free-agent corner Casey Hayward.
Hayward, who spent the last four years with the Los Angeles Chargers, remains unsigned despite being a two-time Pro Bowler. And while the 31 year old might no longer be the ballhawking kind of defensive back he was early in his career, adding him to the fray on a cheap one-year deal surely wouldn’t hurt the 49ers secondary.
49ers still have depth needs, and Casey Hayward can help them
Verrett’s injury history needs little introduction despite him being healthy in 2020. Moseley, meanwhile, has bounced back and forth between the starting lineup and being a reserve the last two seasons.
Hayward, meanwhile, has been a regular starter since 2015 and managed 41 tackles, one interception and eight passes defended a year ago.
At 5-foot-11, some may not view Hayward as a traditional fit for the Niners defense, which has predominantly used bigger-bodied players for its boundary cornerback spots. Yet the sub-6-foot Verrett — the same with Moseley, too — bucks this trend to an extent. And Hayward spent almost the entirety of his Chargers tenure playing on the outside anyway.
Plus, the Chargers used an awfully similar defensive scheme as San Francisco between 2017 and 2020 when Gus Bradley was their defensive coordinator.
From a playbook perspective, Hayward wouldn’t need to go through too much of an adjustment under first-year 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
Behind Verrett, Williams and Moseley, the Niners depth chart at cornerback is awfully thin, essentially boasting only Dontae Johnson as the only reserve player with any substantial starting experience. And while it’s likely San Francisco adds at least one cornerback in the upcoming draft, grabbing someone like Hayward on the cheap could help guard against a possible injury to Verrett, or someone else, while adding a quality player who could compete for a starting job in training camp.
And with Hayward continuing to remain available, it’s likely whatever deal he’d accept wouldn’t be too expensive.
The 49ers have over $18 million in salary-cap space, per Over the Cap, so they have plenty of room for an inexpensive deal that could pay off measures over the course of 2021.