Cornerback Tarell Brown, a former 49ers starter, signed with the Raiders. His fellow starter, Carlos Rogers, was released. And ex-Seahawks corner Walter Thurmond – pursued by the 49ers – has signed with the Giants.
Where does that leave the San Francisco secondary?
As of now, the 49ers likely would start Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver – who missed all of last season with an injury – at cornerback, with Perrish Cox, Eric Wright and recently-signed Chris Cook vying for the third corner spot. Also, 2013 rookies Darryl Morris and Dax Swanson are on the roster. Morris played particularly well in the limited time he saw on the field.
With most of their money dedicated toward retaining free agents such as kicker Phil Dawson and receiver Anquan Boldin and former Colts safety Antoine Bethea, it now appears as if the Niners will use the draft rather than free agency to bring in help at their two biggest positions of need, wide receiver and cornerback.
The 49ers, who have a reported $4 million remaining in salary-cap space, aren’t expected to go after high-priced free agents such as cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, reported Bill Williamson of ESPN.com, or free-agent wideouts still on the market.
Instead, with a deep crop of wideouts and cornerbacks in the draft, San Francisco is likely to strengthen those areas with younger, lower-priced options with potential.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the 49ers taking Virginia Tech corner Kyle Fuller with the 30th selection in his latest mock draft; in his two previous mocks, he had the 49ers taking wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, both of LSU. In other mock drafts that cover the first two rounds, several have the 49ers using one pick on a wide receiver and the other on a corner. Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks has been a popular choice for the 49ers at the bottom of the first round.
Certainly the signing of Cook, a former Viking, doesn’t signal that he’s in line for a starting job. Cook has had problems covering receivers in Minnesota and off-the-field woes as well. But, as Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wrote, Cook could flourish in a limited role, as an extra corner in man-to-man situations.
Cook told reporters he feels “rejuvenated” with a new team.
But if the 49ers want someone to challenge Culliver for a starting job in 2014, it now appears they’ll do it through the draft, not free agency.