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February 7, 2012
Tea leaves: The 49ers' offseason options at safety


Before the most recent free-agency period began, everyone thought that David Baas and Takeo Spikes would be back with the 49ers and that they'd probably lose safety Dashon Goldson to a big free-agent deal elsewhere. It didn't happen that way, which goes to show that no one - not even the teams themselves - knows exactly what's going to happen beginning on March 13 at 1 p.m.

Instead the following reading of the tea leaves is meant to give a sense of what is most likely to occur during the offseason. We'll start with the safeties.


The 49ers have three safeties -- Dashon Goldson, Reggie Smith and Madieu Williams - who will be unrestricted free agents, and a fourth, C.J. Spillman, who is a restricted free agent. Goldson is the priority here and is perhaps second only to quarterback Alex Smith in terms of free agents the team most wants to re-sign. He emerged this year as one of the top safeties in the league, came away with six interceptions, made the Pro Bowl and is only 27 years old.

The 49ers have leverage in this case. Goldson either can sign a five-year deal similar to the one that was offered, but rejected, by Goldson and agent Drew Rosenhaus last year or they can make him their franchise player, which the 49ers could do as early as Feb. 20. That would cost San Francisco roughly $6 million. The other bit of leverage is that there will be a ton of free-agent safeties on the market (see below) which, like last year, will dilute their individual worth. That is, there's a good chance Goldson will be back.

Goldson's return would mean a likely departure for Smith, who had the starting safety job last summer before Goldson, who didn't find the free-agent riches he was seeking, reluctantly rejoined the team. Smith wants a bigger role and knows he would never get one as long as he's on the same squad as Goldson. He told the 49ers as much during his exit interview after the season. As for Williams, he proved this season that a previous neck injury has not diminished his aggressiveness. The 49ers will keep an eye on him during free agency and would welcome him back at the right price.

The most interesting player at the position may be Spillman. Of all the 49ers backups, he's the most aggressive and hard-hitting and the most like Goldson. His tackle on Baltimore's Ray Rice at the goal line on Nov. 24 was one of the 49ers' top defensive plays of the season. The 49ers had Spillman in a prominent role at safety at the beginning on training camp with the hope of giving him as much experience as possible at safety. He played in goal-line and short-yardage situations during the season and arguably was the 49ers' top special teams player.

The 49ers also signed safety Mark LeGree to a future contract and changed another youngster's position - that of Cory Nelms - from cornerback to safety. Nelms, an undrafted rookie in 2011, put on about 10 pounds during the season.

Strong safeties
Considine, Sean - Arizona
Sanders, James - Atlanta
Zbikowski, Tom - Baltimore
Steltz, Craig - Chicago
Elam, Abram - Dallas
Dawkins, Brian - Denver
Coleman, Erik - Detroit
Harris, Chris - Detroit
Barber, Dominique - Houston
Brown, CC - Jacksonville
Johnson, Tyrell - Minnesota
Ihedigbo, James - NE
Lockett, Bret - NE RFA
Martin, Derrick - NYG
Leonhard, Jim - Jets
Branch, Tyvon - Oakland
Gregory, Steve - San Diego
Sanders, Bob - San Diego
Spillman, CJ - SF RFA
Jones, Sean - TB
Babineaux, Jordan - Tennessee
Hope, Chris - Tennessee
Landry, LaRon - Washington

Free safety
Johnson, Rashad - Arizona RFA
Decoud, Thomas - Atlanta
Nakamura, Haruki - Baltimore
Scott, Bryan - Buffalo
Meriweather, Brdn - Chicago
Nelson, Reggie - Cincinnati
Wilson, Gibril - Cincinnati
Adams, Mike - Cleveland
Demps, Quintin - Houston RFA
Lowery, Dwight - Jacksonville
Greene, Courtney - Jacksonville RFA
McGraw, Jon - KC
Piscitelli, Sabby - KC
Abdullah, Husain - Minnesota
Page, Jarrad - Minnesota
Grant, Deon - NYG
Pool, Brodney - Jets
Giordano, Matt - Oakland
Mundy, Ryan - Pittsburgh RFA
Oliver, Paul - San Diego
Bigby, Atari - Seattle
Goldson, Dashon - SF
Williams, Madieu - SF
Smith, Reggie - SF
Butler, James - Rams
Lynch, Corey - TB
Griffin, Michael - Tennessee
Smith, Anthony - Tennessee

-- 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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