The 49ers are replacing a steady presence at safety with perhaps an even steadier one. The team has agreed to a deal with long-time Colts free agent Antoine Bethea, who has started every game for Indianapolis since 2008. The deal is for four years for $21 million, according to a league source.
Bethea, 29, is a year older than Donte Whitner, who will sign a four-year deal with Cleveland reportedly worth $28 million over four years. Whitner averaged $4 million a year for the last three years. It was the second straight season the 49ers lost a starting safety to a big-money deal elsewhere. Dashon Goldson left for Tampa Bay last year on a five-year deal that averages more than $8 million a season.
While the 49ers replaced Goldson with a draft pick, Eric Reid, the 49ers wanted to pair Reid with a veteran. Like Whitner, Bethea (5-11, 205) is an eight-year veteran, and he promises to bring experience to what could be an otherwise very young 49ers secondary. A sixth-round pick out of Howard in 2006, Bethea started 13 games his rookie season and hasn't left the lineup since. He's averaged more than 100 tackles in each of the last four seasons. He made the Pro Bowl following the 2007 and 2009 seasons and was on the Colts' Super Bowl-winning 2006 squad.
One interesting note: While Goldson and Whitner were know for hard hits and personal-foul penalties, neither Bethea nor Reid -- the team's new safety tandem -- was penalized in 2013.
-- Matt Barrows