We are in the dog days of the NFL offseason, Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and there are only three kinds of personnel news at this time of the year: glowing scouting reports from coaches wearing rose-colored glasses (i.e., everything you’ve heard so far about San Francisco 49ers WR Randy Moss), shadowy injury absences, and financial conflicts.
In other words, reports about guys who are present in offseason workouts, and guys who are not there for some reason or another. For the San Francisco 49ers, the main guy not present at this time is Pro Bowl FS Dashon Goldson.
Goldson, a 2007 4th round pick by the 49ers out of Washington, earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2011 after intercepting a career-high six passes and leading the secondary in tackles. Goldson has been San Francisco’s starting free safety for three seasons, and after putting together a career year on a one-year contract, the 49ers chose to franchise tag him.
The 49ers defense was outstanding in 2011, allowing the 2nd-least points in the league. They allowed 20 TD passes while intercepting 23. Goldson is a former college cornerback, and he has shown an excellent nose for the football. But Goldson is trying to get paid like San Diego Chargers FS Eric Weddle.
Weddle earned a 5-year, $40 million contract last year after being a 2007 2nd-round pick by the Chargers. Weddle had six career interceptions from 2007-2010. But the key number for me is that Weddle is a consistent defender who was on the back end of the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense in 2010, only two years from being the 31st ranked pass defense in 2008.
The Chargers only allowed 18 touchdown passes that year as well, and the club knew Weddle would get paid big bucks elsewhere if he wasn’t given a huge contract. San Diego slipped up in 2011, allowing 29 TD passes, but Weddle was an All-Pro for the first time after nabbing a career-high seven interceptions.
San Francisco finished 16th against the pass this past season, but a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that teams had to throw to move the ball against the 49ers in 2011.
Moreover, opposing teams’ passer rating was at 73.6, the lowest since Goldson was drafted. The interceptions had a lot to do with that, but the tough decision the 49ers have to make is determining how much of that success rested on the shoulders of Goldson.
Remember, the 49ers’ front seven allowed only three rushing TDs all season, and also added 42 sacks.
The 49ers enjoyed great health up front, getting 16 starts from standout defenders such as DE Justin Smith and ILB NaVorro Bowman, while ILB Patrick Willis sat out only three games.
Besides Justin Smith, the 49ers enjoyed an extraordinary pass rush from OLBs Ahmad Brooks and rookie Aldon Smith. And the 49ers already spent free agent dollars on SS Donte Whitner and CB Carlos Rogers (twice), and they responded with career seasons in 2011, especially first-time Pro Bowler Rogers.
This is not meant to minimize the impact of Goldson, an undeniably talented player. But he is not in a great position of leverage. Besides the fact that there were others on the 49ers defense contributing to their improvement in the passing game, the 49ers boast enviable depth at safety currently. Even though the 49ers would probably not prefer to start Colin Jones (2011 7th round pick by San Francisco), Trenton Robinson (2012 6th round pick by San Francisco), or Mark Legree (2011 5th round pick by Seattle), they have enough guys to play while Goldson is out disputing his contract status.
The worst thing that could happen to Goldson is that he would take the risk of not signing his tender, lose money, and perhaps lose value in the case that one of the younger safeties can step in and resist flopping at the position.
For right now, Goldson can afford to skip voluntary team activities and save the risk of getting injured while negotiating his value to the 49ers. I’ll give him credit for being smart and working out in Los Angeles instead of letting himself lose conditioning.
Goldson will eventually be met with a hard reality that the only way he would secure a lucrative long-term contract is to outperform his franchise tag salary. He’ll do that by making the same plays on the ball and becoming more reliable when not making the big play. An elite season from Goldson in a year the 49ers could challenge for the Lombardi Trophy (see: 49ers returning all starters on NFC’s best defense in 2011) will surely benefit both Goldson long-term and the 49ers in 2012.