49ers guarding against injury by signing Tony Jefferson

Strong Safety Tony Jefferson #23 of the Baltimore Ravens (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Strong Safety Tony Jefferson #23 of the Baltimore Ravens (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The 49ers already have a quality starting safety tandem with Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, but Tony Jefferson helps guard against possible injuries.

The San Francisco 49ers are banking on being much healthier than they were last season, when they suffered more player gamedays lost than any other team over the last 10 years.

But one of the lessons head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch learned is just how important it is to have quality depth behind a starting lineup. And one of the key areas where the Niners learned this the hard way is within the secondary.

San Francisco will retain its two starting safeties heading into 2021, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt. Considering how both have dealt with a number of key injuries over their respective careers, however, it’s always worthwhile bringing aboard someone else who can step in right away and guard against either one of those two players if they were to be sidelined again for any significant period of time this upcoming season.

On Monday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the 49ers were inking former Baltimore Ravens safety Tony Jefferson:

The 29-year-old Jefferson was a quality defensive back during the three years he spent in Baltimore, registering 174 tackles during that span with 3.5 sacks, two interceptions and 11 passes defended. And while his own injury concerns are substantial, at least the Niners are getting a player who has the experience and can step in right away if Tartt goes down.

Key takeaways from 49ers signing Tony Jefferson

There are a few things to look at here.

For starters, Tartt is already missing time during San Francisco’s OTA period with a toe injury, and it’s important to note Tartt’s 2020 campaign came to a premature injured-reserve end because of turf toe.

In total, Tartt has missed 30 of a possible 64 regular-season games the last four years because of one injury or another.

The 49ers do have depth at the position, yes. But there are far more questions here than answers. Previously, Tartt’s injury absences were largely aided by an increased amount of play from his two backups, Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris. Yet neither player showed exemplary efforts in pass coverage, earning 56.1 and 36.6 pass-coverage grades from Pro Football Focus last year, respectively.

That helps explain why the Niners brought aboard two more safeties during the offseason. The veteran, Tavon Wilson, has primarily been a special teams contributor during his nine-year career, while fifth-round rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga is, well, a rookie. While Hufanga has some playmaking promise, it’s far too premature to assume he can make a key difference right away as a fill-in starter.

Related Story: 3 things to expect from Talanoa Hufanga in 2021

Jefferson isn’t an automatic either. But his signing is an indication Shanahan and Co. aren’t totally satisfied with the depth the team has to back up Tartt and, to a lesser extent, Ward.

If Jefferson proves his worth, however, it’s entirely possible he pushes players like Harris and Wilson off the 53-man roster altogether.

If not, the deal is likely of the low-risk, low-cost variety anyway.

At least San Francisco is banking on Jefferson being in the former category.

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