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May 31, 2010
Pass the OJ? Niners teeming with young safeties

Worried that your favorite team might lose its promising, young safety? Blame the New York Giants. Earlier this year, the Giants signed free-agent safety Antrel Rolle to a five-year, $37 million deal, making him the richest safety in the league. The deal is now the benchmark for every safety looking for a new contract, including the Rams' Oshiomogho (O.J.) Atogwe, who becomes an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, and the 49ers' Dashon Goldson, who is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2010 season.

Atogwe played at Stanford, he's rehabilitating an injured shoulder in the Bay Area and -- oh yeah -- he's been dating one of Mike Singletary's daughters for more than a year. But there are a number of reasons why the 49ers won't make a play for Atogwe, the biggest of which is that they have several young safeties on the team, primarily Goldson and second-round draft pick Taylor Mays. Here's what Singletary had to say May 20 about a possible business relationship with Atogwe.

On whether he talked to Atogwe about joining the 49ers as a free agent:

"I think right now we are just leaving those things where they are. Yes, I do know O.J., but it's not one of those things where we talk about it, no. We're developing our team and he has his team. If that changes then we'll look at that at the appropriate time. Right now it's just not something that we're thinking about."

On whether he has had the talk with Atogwe about why he would or would not join the 49ers:
"I would just say this, by being around him as much as I have been, we've had some conversations but nothing to the point of, 'We'd really like to have you here.' We don't really get into that."

49ers safeties:

Dashon Goldson. Atogwe turns 29 later this month; Goldson turns 26 in September. Goldson had a nice season last year, starting all 16 games and finishing with four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 94 tackles, which was second only to Patrick Willis. (Atogwe's 2009 numbers: 12 starts, two INTs, three forced fumbles and 74 tackles) The problem - from the team's perspective - is that Goldson wants top dollar based solely on one season. He started only two games in the two years prior.

Michael Lewis. The eight-year veteran is an unsung warrior on the defense. He's been one of the team's top three tacklers since arriving in San Francisco in 2007, and he's missed one start in that span. But Lewis' age, 30, and his contract - he's set to earn $4.1 million in base salary this year and $5.7 next year - are working against him. Still, it's difficult to see the 49ers turning to two inexperienced safeties in a 2010 season in which they are expected to make the playoffs.

Taylor Mays. He was perhaps the most physically gifted player in the draft this year, but those skills didn't translate into enough big plays at USC. Mays says he's now eschewing the 'kill shot' for the interception and that he's also concentrating on wrapping up as a tackler. Perhaps the best thing going for Mays: He's supremely motivated after falling to the middle on the second round.

Reggie Smith. Mays will steal most of the ink this offseason, but Smith could be the young safety who gets the most playing time, especially if there's an injury to Goldson. Smith has nice size at 6-1, 200 pounds and he showed a good nose for the ball during the 2009 preseason. Smith was the No. 3 safety during the recent OTA sessions and also saw action in some nickel formations.

Curtis Taylor. Taylor and Smith composed the second-team safety tandem in OTAs. Taylor is a prototypical "49ers" safety in that he's tall - 6-2 - and weighs more than 200 pounds (206). Taylor was active for seven games last year before going on IR with a hip injury. That the 49ers spent a second-round pick on Mays is not great news for Taylor. Better news: He has special teams value and is eligible for the practice squad.

Chris Maragos. The undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin started creating some buzz before the draft. He certainly doesn't lack athleticism - he ran a 4.49 40 at his pro day -- and his story doesn't lack precedent. Jim Leonhard went undrafted out of Wisconsin in 2005 and started 16 games last season for the Jets.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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