Walt Harris Tears ACL: The Aftermath

Matt MCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Cornerback Walt Harris #27 of the San Francisco 49ers intercepts a pass intended for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals on November 25, 2007 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

With Walt Harris suffering an ACL tear just two practices into OTA’s, the 34-year-old cornerback is likely done for the season, and possibly his career. 

What does this mean for the 49ers?  Things could be worse...

Fortunately for San Francisco, the 49ers' front office has spent the last few years stockpiling defensive backs.  Just last year, the 49ers were the talk of the league after keeping 11 defensive backs on the final roster. 

The decision to retain 11 defensive backs was not due to the implementation of an all-defensive back defense, but rather the result of talent and depth at the position. 

Although Donald Strickland left in free agency, the 49ers are not waving the white flag of defeat just yet.


Plan A

Even in the absence of Roman, their cornerback depth chart still consists of:

1—Nate Clements: a lock-down, Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback. Clements was the 49ers’ high-priced free agent acquisition of the 2007 offseason.

2—Tarell Brown: a promising cornerback who played well in 2008 as the featured third cornerback, as well as filling in as a No. 2 cornerback in times of injury.  Brown was a 2007 fifth-round draft pick of the 49ers. 

3—Shawntae Spencer: a former No. 1 cornerback for the 49ers.  Spencer was a 2004 second-round draft pick of the 49ers and started as a rookie.  Injuries and inconsistency have kept him from reaching his true lock-down potential. 

4—Marcus Hudson: a special teams contributor who has filled in as a nickel back.  Hudson was a 2006 sixth-round draft pick of the 49ers.

5—Reggie Smith: a former star Oklahoma cornerback and free safety who spent most of his rookie season developing on the bench. Smith was a 2008 third-round draft pick of the 49ers.

The absence of Harris may be a blessing in disguise for the 49ers, who have two potential starting cornerbacks in Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer.


Plan B

In addition to the 49ers’ current depth at cornerback, the current free agent market is surprisingly loaded at cornerback, presenting the 49ers with several stopgap solutions.

These freelance veterans include:

Roderick Hood: the journeyman, typically a second and third cornerback who has spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.  Hood was named to USA Today's 2005 "All Joe Team" for being an unheralded difference-maker.  Hood was an undrafted free agent pickup of the Eagles in 2003.

Dre Bly: a former two-time Pro Bowl veteran who spent his most recent stint with the Broncos, playing opposite of Champ Bailey. He has seved as both the No. 1 and No. 2 cornerback in his lengthy career. Bly is a former second-round pick of the 1999 NFL Draft. At 31 years old, Bly could fill in well as a short-term fix. 

Mike McKenzie: a veteran journeyman who has played for both the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.  McKenzie has been a solid starter throughout his career, but is clearly regressing with age.  McKenzie was a former third-round pick of the 1999 NFL Draft.

Chris McAlister: a former three-time Pro Bowl and two time All-Pro selection.  Brown was the Raven’s first-round pick of the 1999 NFL Draft.  Although slowed down, and not a long-term solution at age 31, McAlister should provide the veteran leadership and experience in Harris’ absence.


Plan C

The 49ers could make a trade for:

Sheldon Brown: The durable third cornerback in Philadelphia who is best known for receiving “hit of the year” honors after laying out Reggie Bush in the playoffs.  He was the Eagles’ second-round pick of the 2002 NFL Draft.  The 30-year-old Brown would provide a consistent veteran presence. Brown would likely command no more than a fourth-round draft pick.