49ers roster: Death, taxes and Dontae Johnson hanging around

Dontae Johnson #27 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Dontae Johnson #27 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

In danger of being cut by the 49ers at any time, Dontae Johnson nevertheless seems to stay relevant on a year-to-year basis, and that won’t change in 2022.

Life must be challenging for veteran defensive back Dontae Johnson, who is arguably the 53rd player on the San Francisco 49ers’ regular-season 53-man roster any given year.

Anytime the Niners need to make a back-end-of-the-roster move, Johnson appears to be the odd man out. And if you were to count the number of times San Francisco has cut him and then re-signed him, you’d probably get dizzy.


At the same time, though, the 49ers appear to value Johnson in this sort of way, perhaps appreciating his versatility and veteran prowess despite him never turning into that bona fide starter for which they had hoped way back in 2014 when they drafted him in Round 4 out of NC State.

Re-signed yet again for 2022 (inevitably), Johnson nevertheless finds himself competing amid a restocked Niners defensive backfield.

Could this be the year in which Johnson is let go only not to return?

Doubtful, but let’s take a look.

Why Dontae Johnson continues to stick around with 49ers

It almost feels weird to consider Johnson actually spent a short period of time away from San Francisco, 2018 and parts of 2019, yet the 49ers surely trusted him enough as a key reserve piece for their Super Bowl run that season.

Dontae Johnson Defense & Fumbles Table
7 yr7 yrSFO1002827025026141.02111723957
1 yr1 yrBUF100.0
1 yr1 yrLAC200.0

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 6/23/2022.

It’s weirder to think Johnson is now one of only three holdovers from the prior regime before general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, the other two being safety Jimmie Ward and defensive tackle Arik Armstead.

The Niners do have some additional faces at cornerback heading into 2022, highlighted by the offseason free-agent pickup of Charvarius Ward, along with the NFL Draft addition of nickel corner Samuel Womack.

That means Johnson is likely competing with depth pieces like Ambry Thomas, Deommodore Lenoir and Darqueze Dennard, among others, in training camp and the preseason for one of possibly six reserve spots within San Francisco’s secondary.

What might factor in the 30-year-old Johnson’s favor, though, is his versatility and seemingly undying ability to stick around with the franchise in one fashion or another.

Why Dontae Johnson leaves 49ers in 2022 and doesn’t return

There’s always the point at which teams bid farewell to players to see them never return, and one could argue 2022 is the most realistic for Johnson yet.

Cornerback was a prime weakness for the 49ers last season, and the slew of offseason moves here suggests they aren’t going to be in great shape, injury and depth-wise, if Johnson has to assume a prominent role.

Ward is going to take one of the starting jobs, while the No. 2 boundary role is going to go to either Emmanuel Moseley or oft-injured yet re-signed Jason Verrett. This still leaves nickel duties open, though, and Johnson can play there. But the development of Womack will be something to watch here, too.

Assuming Ward, Moseley, Verrett and Womack all make the 53-man roster, that leaves arguably two more spots at cornerback, and Johnson might not have quite enough fortitude to beat out younger, potentially more promising defensive backs like Thomas and another rookie, Tariq Castro-Fields.

Dontae Johnson’s projected role with 49ers (if he makes 53-man roster)

Despite all this, and given his longevity of “hanging around” on a perennial basis, there’s a good chance Johnson isn’t going anywhere once Week 1 kicks off.

His one-year return deal for $1.047 million, according to Over the Cap, carries $712,500 in dead money if he’s cut. And while that’s overly substantial in the grand scheme of things, it’s sizable enough for a role player way down on the depth chart.

Johnson’s ability to back up both the boundary and nickel spots will increase his chances, too. Yet another notable development stemming from the Niners’ offseason workouts thus far is the fact the veteran got some work in at safety, which might go a long way towards backing up Jimmie Ward and whoever winds up winning the strong safety job.

Granted, that position battle at safety is pretty serious, too, yet it’s pretty clear San Francisco is envisioning Johnson being an uber-versatile backup for all points within the defensive backfield.

Those are valuable, essentially helping the 49ers save a roster spot (or two) for other needs.

Still, who are we kidding?

Johnson is about as regular a Niners thing as red and gold uniforms. He’s not going anywhere.

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