49ers news: The real reason San Francisco signed Josh Norman

Josh Norman #29 of the Buffalo Bills (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
Josh Norman #29 of the Buffalo Bills (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) /

The 49ers made a late addition to their 53-man roster, inking veteran cornerback Josh Norman to a one-year deal, and here’s the real reason why.

Poor Dontae Johnson.

The San Francisco 49ers definitely like their on-again, off-again veteran cornerback. And judging by past history, he’ll be back on the 53-man roster at least one more time this season. Perhaps multiple times, as it seems that’s just how his career trajectory has gone in recent years.

This last release, however, came in the wake of the Niners adding 33-year-old veteran cornerback Josh Norman to a one-year deal. Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer first reported the transaction, and San Francisco officially made the deal public on Monday.

Johnson, unfortunately, had to go to make room for Norman.

It’s not uncommon for these back-end-of-the roster moves to happen so close to the beginning of the regular season, and it’s clear enough the 49ers hope the one-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro can offer some upside Johnson essentially couldn’t.

Yet the reason why Norman was an add is something much of the fanbase had been worrying about for much of the offseason through training camp and into the preseason.

A clear lack of cornerback depth.

49ers inked Josh Norman because their cornerback depth chart is awfully thin

The Niners should have added a promising cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft. Taking home only five prospects in the draft that year, however, made things a bit more difficult.

And while San Francisco added two rookie corners in the 2021 draft, Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir, it’s important to recognize young defensive backs often take a year or two to fully develop into reliable starting-caliber players, if they ever reach that threshold. True, Lenoir flashed promise during the preseason. But the 49ers needed both Thomas and Lenoir to impress early.

So far, only Lenoir has checked off that box.

The razor-thin depth behind the trio of presumed starters — Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley — prompted emergency transactions for players like Johnson, Davontae Harris and, most recently, Norman.

Harris is shelved on injured reserve now, and even Moseley has missed practice time in advance of the Niners’ Week 1 bout against the Detroit Lions.

And Moseley was thought to be the corner with the best injury history out of all starters.

Can Josh Norman still offer anything to 49ers?

Yes, his age is a major factor. The days of him being a true No. 1 option for any team’s secondary have long passed, too.

Last year for the Buffalo Bills, Norman appeared in nine games and started three of them, registering 24 tackles, breaking up four passes, intercepting one while also posting a defensive touchdown and forced fumble.

Read More: 49ers cornerback depth proving to be a problem

The playmaking nature of Norman’s efforts might still be there, but it’s also important to acknowledge he allowed a 128.6 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks the previous year when he was with the Washington Football Team.

At this point in his career, Norman is little more than a reserve option with experience who can help guard against the injury worries associated with players like Verrett, Williams and now Moseley. It’s also not a good endorsement for someone like Thomas, whose development leading up to Week 1 has been slightly disappointing.

Judging by those other players’ injury histories, it’s likely San Francisco will need that depth at some point this season.

Next. Power ranking each 49ers position after final roster cuts. dark