Injured 49ers Star Could Lose Starting Job to Recently Cut 4-Time All-Pro

49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga

Getty 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga

When we last saw 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga, he was being carted off the field in Week 11’s win over Tampa Bay with a torn ACL. He had been inconsistent to start the year coming off a stellar showing the previous year, and had only just begun to round into form. But he missed the remaining seven games and the 49ers’ postseason run, more than ably replaced by third-round pick Ji’Ayir Brown.

Now, apparently, Hufanga may be out of a job as he rehabs. Not only does he have Brown to contend with, but the 49ers could be in the market for one of the talented star safeties who have flooded the market—if ex-Broncos star Justin Simmons could be had at a discount, and the 49ers could be ready to pounce.

But first, Hufanga. According to well-connected San Francisco Chronicle writer Michael Silver, Hufanga might lose his starting spot, and the 49ers could yet add a cornerback, too.

As he wrote this week: “Safety Talanoa Hufanga, a 24-year-old who earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2022, is coming off a torn ACL and isn’t assured of reclaiming his starting job. The cornerback position is also in flux, with starter Deommodore Lenoir facing a possible move to the slot, depending upon whether the 49ers can find a suitable replacement in free agency or the draft.”

49ers Defensive Overhaul Could Include Talanoa Hufanga

The 49ers have had a general overhaul of what was a good defense last year, but not a great one. The unit seemed to lack an edge, the ability to make plays when needed. That showed a few times in the regular season—the Bengals ran up 400 yards in Week 8 and the Ravens shredded the 49ers with 33 points on Christmas—and again when facing Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.

Adding another veteran desperate to win, like Simmons, could further the defense’s development of that edge. The 49ers are not finished with their overhaul.

“The roster tinkering won’t stop now that the first wave of free agency has subsided,” Silver wrote. “With the safety market somewhat oversaturated, the Niners might be able to land a big name such as Justin Simmons (four times a second-team All-Pro during his Denver career) or a less decorated player such as the Commanders’ Kam Curl or the Colts’ Julian Blackmon.”

Justin Simmons a Veteran Star

Simmons remains a talented player, and a veteran leader. In other words, a good 49ers fit. Perhaps the notion of him taking Hufanga’s job would not sit well with some in the locker room, but the 49ers are trying to win a Super Bowl.

Simmons is 31 and his coverage numbers faded a bit last year. He has earned four All-Pro second-team spots in the last five years and was twice named to the Pro Bowl, including in 2023. He has 30 career interceptions and led the league with six picks in 2022. Simmons has had five forced fumbles in the past two years.

Simmons did allow a quarterback rating of 89.1 when he was targeted last year, which was the highest he’d allowed in four seasons. His coverage grade at Pro Football Focus was 63.4 in 2023, the lowest it had been since the 2018 season.

Simmons is also a very good run-stopper, though, and logged a PFF grade of 77.6 against the run.

Simmons had signed a four-year, $61 million contract with the Broncos in 2021, and was entering the final year of that deal when he was cut. Spotrac estimates his value at $11.1 million per year and projects him to land a two-year, $22.2 million contract. But given the way free agency has unfolded, there is a chance he’d accept less on a one-year deal.


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