49ers free agency 2023: Ranking the best available cornerbacks
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers may seek to find a starting-caliber cornerback in NFL free agency this offseason, and there are some potential targets to be had.
A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers finally gave in and spent considerable money at cornerback, spending big bucks to lure over former Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Charvarius Ward.
The move worked.
No longer was the Niners’ secondary a massive problem for an otherwise stout defense. And while they still had question marks elsewhere within the defensive backfield, Ward’s addition helped ensure those issues weren’t too overwhelming.
However, heading into 2023, San Francisco is poised to experience some major turnover in the secondary. Defensive backs like Jimmie Ward, Tashaun Gipson, Emmanuel Moseley and Tarvarius Moore are all poised for NFL free agency.
Ward, who primarily played nickel cornerback after returning from an early injury and because of Gipson’s presence, is certainly the most versatile of the group.
But, with the 49ers boasting just over $8 million in salary cap space, according to Over the Cap, re-signing someone like Ward would be awfully tough. Especially if he’s asking for top dollar.
The Niners could still try the free-agent market, though, and these five corners could make sense if the money is right.
Except for Philadephia Eagles cornerback James Bradberry won’t make the list, since wide receiver Deebo Samuel disqualified him from such already.
Note: All salary and cap information, courtesy of Over the Cap.
49ers free-agent cornerback target No. 1: Jamel Dean, Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in salary cap hell heading into 2023, so it’s not likely they’ll be able to afford what Jamel Dean will ask for this offseason.
Dean, who was credited with allowing four touchdowns last season, is probably the best of the free-agent bunch at cornerback and has the size (6-foot-1 and 206 pounds) to match up well out on the boundary against bigger wide receivers.
A challenge, though, is that Dean could easily seek a new deal worth at least $10 million per season, and that’ll be challenging for San Francisco to absorb.
49ers free-agent cornerback target No. 2: Byron Murphy, Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals had an atrocious defense in 2022, and one might argue that impacted Byron Murphy’s overall impact in what was ultimately an injury-plagued season for him.
Appearing in just nine games, Murphy surrendered four touchdowns and a passer rating over 103 when targeted, but the 25 year old should be in a position to bounce back with a better pass rush in front of him.
Injuries and underperformance in 2022 should also help lower his overall price tag, too.
49ers free-agent cornerback target No. 3: Emmanuel Moseley, Niners
Why not re-sign Moseley, right? After all, Moseley was having an excellent year opposite Charvarius Ward as the 49ers’ No. 2 boundary corner before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in Week 5.
General manager John Lynch already told reporters that the Niners would “like to have him back” in 2023 and beyond. Like Murphy, Moseley’s injury could lower the overall price tag.
Related Story: 49ers must prioritize re-signing Emmanuel Moseley above all other free agents
Turning 27 years old this offseason, if he’s fully recovered, Moseley is only just now hitting the prime of his career, and he’d likely be cheaper in a stay-at-home situation than some of the other names listed here.
49ers free-agent cornerback target No. 4: Cameron Sutton, Steelers
Not a lot went right for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense over the course of 2022, but Cameron Sutton was a major plus.
The soon-to-be 28 year old notched a career-high three interceptions last year, and he split time on the boundary and inside, which is something San Francisco would likely appreciate if Jimmie Ward isn’t brought back.
Plus, considering the 5-foot-11 Sutton has primarily played at nickel, and nickel cornerbacks rarely command the big paydays as boundary corners, perhaps the 49ers might be able to work out a much more team-friendly deal in the range of $7 million, annually.
49ers free-agent cornerback target No. 5: Rock Ya-Sin, Raiders
The Niners aren’t looking for a true No. 1 cornerback. They already have one in Charvarius Ward, so finding some bargain options that are still good quality should be the approach.
Here’s where Rock Ya-Sin comes into play, and while he hasn’t been a ballhawk over his career, recording seven pass breakups with the Las Vegas Raiders last season at least proves he can get in the way of the ball. Opposing quarterbacks posted a career-low 82.6 passer rating when targeting him, too, and that’ll bode well for the 26 year old when he hits NFL free agency.
Injuries have gotten in the way, though, and this could ultimately impact his market value. Especially considering he played only 11 games for Vegas last season.
NFL free agency will officially kick off at the start of the league new year on March 15.