By Kevin York
Yesterday Ryan wrote about the situation involving Alex Smith and his future with the 49ers. Today I want to touch on a decision San Francisco needs to make that’s even more important than the Smith one – the decision on Dashon Goldson’s future. He’s a free agent and they need to decide his status with the team.
I know a lot of San Francisco fans look at Goldson and say, you’ve gotta resign that guy. He’s coming off two straight Pro Bowl seasons, after all. I urge those fans to take a closer look at the situation though.
As this SB Nation article notes, it would cost San Francisco $7.45 million to place the franchise tag on Goldson, which would allow them to retain him for one year before they’d have to resign him again. Their two other options are signing him to a long term contract or allowing him to walk into free agency. For context, the highest paid safety in the NFL next year, at least right now prior to current free agents signing new contracts, will be Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu. His base salary next year will be $7.5 million. Keep in mind that Polamalu is a strong safety, a position that typically earns more than Goldson’s free safety position.
Goldson’s position leads to my first point. He plays like a strong safety, not a free safety. In today’s NFL you want a free safety that’s a strong cover player. Goldson is a better run stopper/big hitter than cover man. San Francisco has Donte Whitner at strong safety, they don’t need another. Their other coverage players in the secondary, cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, struggled in coverage at points during this season. They could really use a strong cover free safety to back them up. Look at the playoffs, and even regular season, for proof. Although they made the Super Bowl, their secondary was exposed as having some serious flaws by every playoff team they played, except Green Bay (don’t even get me started on that one. Aaron Rodgers should have torn them up as well, but I’m convinced Mike McCarthy entered that game without an offensive game plan. It’s like he decided to play Andy Reid for a day).
As a retort to the point I’m getting at, many Niner fans point at how strong their defense has been over the past couple years. This is true. It’s a good defense; however, let’s look at the areas they’re good in. You can’t make a blanket statement when you’re analyzing a decision like this. Many think the 2011 defense was better than last year’s. Is that true? Numerically yes, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In 2011, and the few years before, San Francisco could rely on its strong run stopping and short pass containing defense. Why? Because their offense wasn’t very good. The Niner offense wasn’t blowing anyone away, they won a number of close games. Opponents were able to stay in games longer and San Francisco held on and shut them down in the fourth quarter. That means opponents didn’t feel the need to throw the ball deep as much, or for that matter, throw the ball anywhere as much. They could play a more strategic, ball control type offense. Last year, the 49ers offense emerged as a real power. They were blowing people out, taking big leads, and in the process, putting opposing offenses in a position where they needed to throw the ball, and throw it deep. This exposed the Niner secondary in a way that they weren’t the year before. After all, you didn’t see Carlos Rogers making anyone’s Pro Bowl team this year, did you?
In 2011 the 49ers played six games against teams starting Tarvaris Jackson, John Skelton, Kellen Clemons and A.J. Feeley at quarterback. Last year, they played those six games against teams starting Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford and yes, John Skelton and Brian Hoyer. With a new head coach, I think the Cardinals next year may find themselves with a starter more of the Wilson/Bradford variety. The NFC West offenses are improving, especially in their passing games. The Niners need to keep up with this changing environment.
San Francisco could draft a true free safety or sign one through free agency at a cheaper price than what Goldson commands. In the long term, I think this would be more beneficial for them. They save money and could get a player that’s actually better in coverage. Goldson didn’t make the Pro Bowl due to his cover skills.
Make the decision, San Francisco. Let him walk.