Over the next few weeks, I'll take a position-by-position look at the 49ers roster with an eye on the upcoming season and beyond. Today we examine the situation at safety.
Signed for 2014: Eric Reid, Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman, D.J. Campbell, Ray Ventrone
Pending free agents: Donte Whitner
Outlook: The 49ers signed Craig Dahl in free agency last year with two positions in mind. The first, of course, was the free-safety spot that had belonged to Dashon Goldson, who left via free agency to Tampa Bay. But they also had an eye on Whitner's future strong safety spot. Whitner becomes a free agent next month, and like Goldson, he could be someone the 49ers want back but have decided they cannot afford to bring back.
So they have Dahl, who isn't known as a playmaker, but who has started 42 games over his career, as a fallback if Whitner indeed moves on like Goldson did a year ago. Would there be a drop off from Whitner, a team leader, a vicious hitter and someone who improved his coverage skills in 2013, to Dahl? Absolutely. But the 49ers may be forced to make tough, unpopular decisions in an offseason in which they want to re-sign receiver Anquan Boldin and give multiple young players, perhaps the starting quarterback, contract extensions.
They also might be encouraged by how easily they were able to replace Goldson. The team traded ahead 13 spots to select Reid in the first round. He had an excellent rookie season in which he finished with 77 tackles and four interceptions. By comparison, Goldson had 69 tackles and three interceptions for the 49ers the year prior. The one caveat is that Reid sustained two concussions, which has to be a concern moving forward for the team.
Spillman, 27, also is an interesting option to replace Whitner. The 49ers began eying him as a possible starter three seasons ago. He's just as athletic as Reid and Goldson, just as big a hitter as Goldson and Whitner and has much better size - six feet, 200 pounds - than Whitner. But while he's been a standout on special teams and enters the game in goal-line situations, Spillman to this point hasn't been able to convince the coaching staff that he deserves a bigger role.
Youth watch: The 49ers signed second-year player D.J. Campbell, who played at Cal, to a reserve/future contract last month. Campbell has good size (6 foot, 205 pounds), good speed (4.54-second 40) and has some experience having started four games for Carolina in 2012. He mostly was a special teams ace at Cal before moving into a starting role as a senior. The 49ers may have to find depth at nickel cornerback given Carlos Rogers' contract situation and the fact that three other players who practiced there in 2013 - Tarell Brown, Perrish Cox and Eric Wright - are free agents. The 49ers also lost another nickel prospect, Michael Thomas, when the Dolphins signed him off San Francisco's practice squad. Campbell is known as a good coverage safety, and he may get a look in the nickel spot.
Bottom line: Whitner has been a solid, three-year starter but he may be too pricey for the 49ers to bring back. Look for the team to draft a safety at some point. But with needs at receiver and cornerback, it's hard to see them using a high pick at the position for two straight years.
-- Matt Barrows