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Safety Eric Reid will be a starter next season in the 49ers’ secondary.
Cornerback Tramaine Brock is also expected to start.
Beyond that, the 49ers head into the offseason with uncertainty at their other two starting positions in the defensive backfield, as well as the team’s third cornerback – a role that plays about half of the team’s snaps.
Safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown are scheduled for unrestricted free agency. And cornerback Carlos Rogers does not figure to be back at his scheduled $6.6 million price tag.
[RELATED: 49ers' scheduled free agents]
Chris Culliver, who continues to rehab from an ACL tear he sustained Aug. 1 during a non-contact drill in training camp, figures to have a strong chance to earn a starting role if he comes back strong.
“I work every day and do what I need to do and contribute to the team how I need to contribute to it,” Culliver said.
“I’m a good player. Whatever happens is whatever happens. I might not even be here. You don’t know. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You never know. I’m here to work and keep pushing for it.”
Last offseason, the 49ers asked Rogers to take a pay cut to guarantee his spot on the team’s roster. Rogers declined. It turned out to be the right move. Culliver sustained his injury, and the 49ers needed Rogers on the field at any salary.
The 49ers signed talented veteran Eric Wright to a one-year deal in training camp. Initially, the 49ers had big plans for Wright. But, now, it’s not certain whether he still fits into their plans. After all, when Rogers was injured in the regular-season finale, the 49ers coaches had more trust in Perrish Cox, who was released in November to make room for Wright. Cox was sharper mentally and physically in practices, so he got the call to play significant roles in playoff games at Green Bay and Carolina.
Cox is also a scheduled free agent. Both Cox and Wright should be available for minimum-salary deals if the 49ers choose to bring them back.
Speedster Darryl Morris, who was promoted to the active roster as an undrafted rookie, showed promise on special teams. He has a chance to work into a role on defense, too.
The 49ers do not figure to go into the free-agent market and compete for an established player. They could sign a bargain veteran. And they can certainly be expected to use a high draft pick on a cornerback who has the physical tools to make an immediate impact.
The 49ers might find themselves looking for another safety, depending on whether they satisfy Whitner’s financial demands. The 49ers generally do not place a big premium on safeties.
“I think goes on a player-by-player basis,” Whitner said. “You have to go on what the player brings to the team, brings to the defense, brings to the offense. You have to go on, ‘Is this guy a team leader or is he just one of the guys?’ So you go based on the player’s worth. So we’ll see what happens.”
The backup plan for Whitner is the same as it was a year ago after Dashon Goldson's departure as a free agent. The 49ers have backups Craig Dahl and C.J. Spillman under contract. The 49ers can find a low-priced alternative in free agency. And they can also be expected to look to bolster the position – and add to the competition – in the draft.