Tartt-y to the Party: What Re-signing Tartt Means for the 49ers’ Defense
Image Credit: Bay Area News Group
Jaquiski Tartt was seen as one of the luxuries of free agency who the San Francisco 49ers wouldn’t be able to bring back due to salary cap reasons. It was assumed that he would price himself out of the team’s ability to offer a new contract, and the team would either be upgrading from within (Tarvarius Moore), signing a free agent addition (Tavon Wilson), or drafting a starter level replacement player. It turns out that the market for Tartt just didn’t exist or accumulate to the options Tartt might have wanted to see. For his part, Tartt thought the 49ers might move on from him because of his biggest issue: injuries.
It’s a common theme that 49er fans have come used to experiencing. The 49ers have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, but too much of that talent is continually on injured reserve. It’s why they traded up to the third position in the draft, and it’s why Tartt thought he may be persona non-grata in Santa Clara. Even so, bringing him back on a one-year deal was a great decision by the front office
Tartt, a second round draft pick in 2015, is the longest tenured 49er on the roster. He and high school teammate (and safety partner) Jimmie Ward are the only players who survived the post Jim Harbaugh turmoil and are still on the roster. Retaining him also gives us a sneak peek at some possibilities of what new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans might have planned for the 49ers defensive assignments.
When healthy, Tartt has been the 49ers’ starting strong safety pretty much since his second year in the league. When he was drafted there was discussion about making him more of a linebacker/safety hybrid, but Tartt has lined up as the strong safety since taking over for Donte Whitner. Although he has come up with some highlight-reel plays, like the one handed catch from 2017 below, he has primarily earned his keep by being a sure tackler and for his ability to cover tight ends and running backs over the middle.
The 49ers’ defense has moved away from the single-high-safety, cover-3 defensive set to an interchangeable safety system, while keeping the cover-3 ideals. This means that although Tartt will be labeled the strong safety, and Ward will be labeled the free safety, at times they will be asked to do each other’s job. Keeping Tartt on the roster leads me to believe this means that Ryans plans to employ a similar defensive set for his secondary as his predecessor, Robert Saleh, did.
Before the offseason started the 49ers looked like they would have to start completely over with their secondary, but after re-signing Tartt, Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, and Emmanuel Moseley, they get all of their main contributors back. Tartt should provide leadership fora defense that will return all of its intended starters in 2022, besides Sherman. This allows Ryans to continue growing the defense after Saleh’s departure, without completely starting over. Signing Tartt to a one-year deal also puts the pressure on the oft-injured safety to put up big numbers and stay on the field.
Although Tartt has earned his money in the short zones, when he was on the field, the 49ers are one of the best teams in defending the big play, especially in 2019. Whether this is Tartt’s individual performance or Ward’s trust in him as a teammate to do his job is arguable.
Tartt’s ability to play both positions also allows the team to move Ward to nickel cornerbackif Williams happens to get injured again, putting him next to the newly-signed Wilson or whichever other safety makes the final roster. Tartt being re-signed also allows the team’s defense to play fluidly with their experience with each other, while allowing Ryan to attempt to hide his coverage and the secondary’s coverage responsibilities. With the caliber of QBs that the 49ers will have to face in 2021, this will be a huge benefit fora first-year defensive coordinator, and for the team as a whole.
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