Could Charles Woodson return to the Bay Area?
As a big name free-agent who holds several defensive awards, Woodson himself can somewhat dictate where he lands. He has already said he wants to play for a contender, and the San Francisco 49ers certainly fit that bill. Assuming the money is right, San Francisco is an attractive option for Woodson.
But is he an attractive option for the team? Woodson played safety last year, after spending his entire career as a cornerback, and Dom Capers, the Green Bay DC, moved Woodson around the field a lot to take advantage of Woodson’s veteran savvy, coverage skills and blitzing ability. That type of versatility is missing from the 49ers.
Woodson would likely replace Donte Whitner on the field. There is no doubt Whitner is a superior run stopper; he plays tough, causes fumbles and gives opposing running backs something to think about when they fight for extra yards. The Niners defense grinds teams down, and Whitner plays a big part in that.
However, Whitner struggles in pass coverage, and Woodson, a former corner, still has coverage skills to match up with tight ends and slot receivers. As a safety with better coverage skills, Woodson could come in on obvious passing downs. Playing closer to the line, the threat of an additional blitzer might cause confusion for opposing quarterbacks. The Niners don’t blitz much, preferring to rush four and let the back seven cover. When Woodson is on the field, that coverage would be better, at the expense of their run defense.
What do you think? Is the run defense good enough that it could sacrifice effectiveness to improve the coverage? I doubt Fangio would alter his defensive scheme for a soon-to-be 37-year-old part-time player, so its Woodson’s coverage skills that the Niners would take advantage of.
As noted, the team isn’t big on blitzing, but if Woodson gets a few blitzes called for him early in the season, opposing teams will have to respect what has been put on tape and game plan for Woodson in ways they don’t have to for Whitner (and Goldson, to a lesser extent). This would allow the defense to deploy multiple formations the way the offense does, and thus dictate the flow of the game more.
As long as the team kept Whitner as a hedge against injury, signing Woodson to an incentive-laden contract makes sense. Sure he’s old, and yes, he missed considerable time last year, but he possesses skills that San Francisco’s current crop of safeties lack. Better yet, the team has numerous draft picks and can draft a safety or two to learn under Woodson’s veteran leadership (and play special teams) to offset the age factor.