49ers roster 2023: Tashaun Gipson is back (but only as a placeholder)

It's likely Tashaun Gipson winds up starting for the 49ers at free safety this year, but Ji'Ayir Brown could end up stealing the job at some point soon.
San Francisco 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson (31)
San Francisco 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson (31) / Christopher Mast/GettyImages

The 49ers went with Tashaun Gipson over Jimmie Ward this offseason, but Gipson could see his own job as a starting safety come to a premature end.

When one stops and thinks about it, veteran defensive back Tashaun Gipson's story with the San Francisco 49ers is quite fascinating.

Just prior to the 2022 regular season, the Niners needed a fill-in safety to hold the line while their starter, Jimmie Ward, was on the mend with a minor hand injury. Gipson, who spent the previous two seasons with the Chicago Bears, was signed as a free agent and likely with the lone expectation of playing a handful of games until Ward returned.

Yet Gipson played so well that Ward, upon his own return, was relegated to a nickel cornerback role instead of his natural free safety spot.

But wait. There's more.

Both players were hitting NFL free agency in 2023. Ward, the longest-tenured player then on San Francisco's roster, would likely command more money on the open market. Gipson, who mulled over retirement but opted to give it another go, was going to be much cheaper.

The 49ers opted to re-sign Gipson, not Ward, the latter heading off to the Houston Texans instead.

Why the 49ers re-signed Tashaun Gipson instead of Jimmie Ward

Money is obviously a huge factor here, and Gipson ended up inking a one-year deal worth up to $2.9 million, according to Over the Cap, $800,000 of which is deferred into a void year in 2024.

Ward, meanwhile, signed a two-year deal with Houston worth up to $13 million.

in going with the cheaper option, the Niners are hoping the one-time Pro Bowler, Gipson, can come close to replicating his 2022 efforts with San Francisco in which he produced 61 tackles, eight passes broken up and five interceptions.

Why Tashaun Gipson might still lose his job this season

Re-signing Gipson was a no-brainer for the 49ers at the time. He had one of the best seasons of his 11-year career in 2022, and there are few reasons to suspect he'll be on a massive decline this season.

That said, the Niners had to understand the soon-to-be 33-year-old Gipson is merely a stopgap option and someone who won't be a long-term answer at the very back of their defense.

How do we know this? For starters, San Francisco signed Gipson to a mere one-year deal. Even if he was strongly considering retiring after 2023, he could have sought a two- or three-year contract and retired a year into that deal.

On top of that, the 49ers used their first pick of this year's NFL Draft on a defensive back who is tailored to be a starting free safety, Penn State's Ji'Ayir Brown.

Read more: Ji'Ayir Brown should have this lone goal in mind for 2023

Like Ward, Brown is capable of playing multiple spots throughout the secondary, and it wouldn't be surprising if that's how the Niners use him early on.

However, Brown is likely gunning for that free safety job right out of the gate, and it's one that Gipson could be poised to lose.

What will Tashaun Gipson's role with the 49ers be this season?

Brown is promising, yes. But he's still a rookie, Gipson is a proven veteran. And while he's on the wrong side of 30 years old by a pretty wide margin, at least San Francisco knows what it has in Gipson's abilities. Those were on display a year ago.

Young defensive backs tend to struggle early at the pro level, and Gipson gives the 49ers time to develop Brown properly.

Now, the only real question is whether or not that time winds up being a matter of weeks, months or potentially all of 2023.

For an elder veteran like Gipson, he might be hoping for one final shot as a yearlong starter before Brown fully takes over the job in 2024.

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