The game of tag has begun. NFL teams can begin applying the franchise tag to pending free agents today through March 5. For the 49ers, the most likely candidate is safety Dashon Goldson for several reasons.
First, the 49ers very much want to retain him. At age 27, Goldson is young and just now reaching the prime of his career. He's coming off his best season, one in which he finished with six interceptions and made his first pro bowl. Most important, he is an excellent fit on a 49ers defense that is physical and that thrives on forcing turnovers.
And one more reason - the franchise number for safeties, $6.2 million, is lower than any other non-kicker position aside from tight end ($5.4 million). The 49ers also have few safeties signed beyond this season. Backups Reggie Smith and Madieu Williams are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, although one or both gladly would re-sign with the team if Goldson did not return.
During last year's free-agency period, the 49ers offered Goldson a five-year, $25 million deal but Goldson and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, wanted more. They didn't get it, and Goldson instead returned to the 49ers on a one-year, $2 million deal. A number of 2011 free agents had the same experience and also signed one-year contracts. That has created a glut of free agents this year at certain positions, including safety, and may again prevent Goldson from getting the type of contract offer he feels he deserves.
With that in mind, the 49ers will continue to try to lock up Goldson with a long-term deal. Doing so would be better for the team. Although it's guaranteed money, players generally detest the franchise tag and often withhold their services in spring and summer practice sessions. The franchise tag also fails to solve the issue. Tag Goldson this year and he and the 49ers will be in the same position next year when the 49ers have a lot less salary-cap space.
Working out a long-term deal also would allow the 49ers to use the tag on another player. One candidate would be outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who also is in his prime - he's 28 - who's also coming off his best season but who holds perhaps more leverage than Goldson given the dearth of 3-4 outside linebackers on the free-agent market. Brooks also has had conditioning issues in recent years, and the 49ers might have some anxiety about giving him a long-term deal.
However, the franchise number for Brooks' position -- $8.8 million -- likely is prohibitive, as is the $10.6 million for pending free-agent cornerback Carlos Rogers.
Quarterback: $14.4 million
Defensive end: $10.6
Wide receiver: $9.6
Offensive line: $9.4
Defensive tackle: $7.9
Running back: $7.7
Tight end: $5.4
• The Chiefs today signed former Raiders
quarterback cornerback Stanford Routt to a three-year deal. Kansas City's offseason conundrum has been whether to keep wide receiver Dwayne Bow or cornerback Brandon Carr, who are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. Routt's acquisition points to the team letting Carr go and holding onto Bowe, who likely is of interest to the receiver-needy 49ers.
* Another receiver reaching the end of his contract, San Diego's Vincent Jackson, is not expected to receive the franchise tag. As in previous years, if a player's cap number from the previous year is greater than the salary cap figure for his position, he must be paid 120 percent of his previous salary if he gets the franchise tag. For Jackson, that would mean a one-year deal worth more than $13 million.
* There also have been reports that the Saints are more apt to franchise guard Carl Nicks than they are receiver Marques Colston, which means Colston could hit the free-agent market.
* CBS Sports' Rob Rang reports that Stanford tight end Coby Fleener will not run during the combine. Fleener suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Cardinal's bowl game. He is expected to take part in the school's March 22 pro day, which promises to be well-attended given that Andrew Luck is expected to throw.
-- Matt Barrows