Editor’s note: Insider Matt Maiocco will analyze each position group leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad reports on July 30 with the first practice scheduled for July 31. This installment focuses on the safeties.
If you’re looking for the strength of the 49ers’ roster, this is probably it.
Veteran Antoine Bethea, the Bill Walsh Award winner as the team MVP in 2014, is back after missing the final nine games last season due to a torn pectoral.
The 49ers have talented young players, too, after investing significant draft picks in Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt from 2013 to ’15.
Shouldn’t Ward be listed as a cornerback?
We’ve already listed him among the cornerbacks. After all, the 49ers’ coaching staff had him auditioning there during the offseason program. But it’s uncertain whether he will stick at that position.
Ward is highly versatile. Cornerback is a premium position, so if he is determined to be among the top two or three corners on the team, that’s where he will stick. Otherwise, he will be the team’s nickel back and backup free safety.
Will Reid secure his spot for 2017?
The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option for next season. But his scheduled $5.676 million salary for next year only becomes guaranteed if he is still on the roster at the start of the new league year in March 2017.
The 49ers are likely to give Reid the benefit of the doubt due to his high character. If he plays at the level he showed in his first two seasons, the 49ers would be expected to use some of their ample cap space to sign him to a long-term extension.
Is Tartt ready for a full-time starting role?
Tartt began the season with a role when the 49ers employed six defensive backs. Then, he was forced into the starting lineup due to Bethea’s injury. Tartt showed flashes but also struggled with his assignments as a rookie.
Bethea is a highly respected leader in the secondary. Although he turns 32 this week, he is still the better all-around option as a starter. Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil will likely find a regular role for Tartt in the team's sub packages. He should be more prepared this season if he needs to step in from his backup role.