© Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
SANTA CLARA — Perhaps no player has experienced more drastic highs and lows in his NFL career than Jason Verrett.
When healthy, Verrett has proven to be an elite cornerback. In 2015, he produced 42 tackles, 12 passes defended, and three interceptions, while allowing just a 60 percent success rate when targeted. Despite missing two games that season, Verrett was named a Pro Bowler.
But the positives have been short-lived. Injuries have dictated that.
In Verrett’s three additional NFL seasons with the Chargers, he appeared in 11 of potentially 50 games. He has endured one season-ending injury after the next.
In 2016, he battled knee injuries, including a torn ACL, limiting him to four games played. The injury did not heal properly entering 2017, so the Chargers shut him down one game into the season. Fast forward to 2018 training camp, and Verrett tore his Achilles during conditioning drills. He calls these circumstances “smile-now, cry-later” moments.
Thursday afternoon marked the start of a new opportunity. He signed a one-year, $3.6-million contract with the 49ers. It’s a prove-it deal for someone who hasn’t proven much since 2015.
“I was just happy to even have a team interested in me,” Verrett said Thursday. “With everything I have been through, and to be able to have visits lined up, that’s all you can ask for.”
Verrett had two more visits scheduled up this week, with Kansas City and Houston. But he said he liked the 49ers’ vibe, locker room, and coaching too much to consider signing elsewhere.
Verrett will compete alongside Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore at the starting cornerback spot opposite from Richard Sherman. Witherspoon had an up-and-down 2018 season, and Moore has gotten minimal NFL reps after he was asked to switch from safety to cornerback coming out of Southern Mississippi last year.
Verrett welcomes the competition.
“It’s the NFL,” Verrett said. “There’s going to be competition everywhere you go. If you don’t like competing, you don’t need to be in the league. I am a competitor, and I am willing to compete with anybody.”
At 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, Verrett doesn’t fit the tall, lanky cornerback prototype in the 49ers’ defense. He is by far the smallest cornerback on the roster.
But “if you can ball,” Verrett says, “you can ball.” He has experienced success in the same Cover-3 system under renowned defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
In the meantime, Verrett will continue to rehab his Achilles tear in Orange County. He said he is on the original track he and his doctors outlined. He did not specify a return date, but he should be ready to go by the start of the 2019 season. He’s eager to show that his 2015 season wasn’t a one-time occurrence.
“I know I am definitely a top corner in this league when I am healthy,” Verrett said. “I just got to prove it. The 49ers are giving me an opportunity to do that.”