The 49ers watched some of their key players depart in NFL free agency on Monday, but they landed a big-ticket option in cornerback Charvarius Ward.
It wasn’t too hard to find arguments saying the San Francisco 49ers’ top positional priority heading into 2022 was to address the cornerback room, one which was devastated by injury to No. 1 corner Jason Verrett and saw lackluster play from fill-in options like Josh Norman over the course of last season.
Of course, the big names to watch heading into NFL free agency were players like former New England Patriots corner J.C. Jackson, arguably the biggest name at the position on the market, as well as former Carolina Panthers veteran corner Stephon Gilmore.
And while the Niners didn’t end up landing either one of those two players, they did make one splash signing late on the opening day of NFL free agency’s negotiating window, landing former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward.
Yes, Ward will be making an annual average of $14 million over the lifespan of his contract. But that’s about the ballpark for an established veteran starter and less than the $16.5 million Jackson is getting. And while Gilmore has name recognition, he’s also significantly older, whereas Ward is only 25 years old but has three years’ starting experience under his belt.
Last season with the Chiefs, Ward allowed opponents to complete just 51.3 percent of passes his way while surrendering a passer rating of only 79.4, also intercepting two passes and breaking up an additional 10 over 13 games.
With Ward in the mix, how will his presence shake up San Francisco’s cornerback depth chart?
What Charvarius Ward means for 49ers cornerback depth chart
There’s little doubting the 49ers have full intention of making Ward their primary boundary cornerback, upgrading over both last year’s late-season starters, Emmanuel Moseley and Ambry Thomas, while also all but guaranteeing the Niners bid farewell to Norman.
This move likely signifies San Francisco will move on from Verrett, too, who suffered a torn ACL way back in Week 1, and it’s likely the 49ers were planning on letting Verrett walk anyway instead of using a roster spot on him.
Already, the Niners have options for a starting trio of cornerbacks: Ward as the No. 1 option on the depth chart, likely followed by Moseley. Thomas, who primarily played boundary duties his rookie season, could bump inside as a nickel back, especially with veteran corner K’Waun Williams also hitting free agency.
Or, should San Francisco so choose, another veteran option could be Seattle Seahawks nickel cornerback D.J. Reed, who enjoyed two quality years with the 49ers’ NFC West rival.
The 49ers needed upgrades at cornerback in a bad way, emphasized by the loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game, and Ward should be expected to be responsible for other teams’ top receivers, especially those on the outside.
Moseley, while not flashy, is much better a No. 2 option on the depth chart, and the hope Thomas can continue his maturation into a reliable spot starter and rotational piece can still continue.
Nevertheless, the Niners made their move and grabbed a quality player for a key position of need.