Who Should Be the 49ers Starting Free Safety If Dashon Goldson Holds Out?

Dylan DeSimoneCorrespondent IJune 1, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14: Dashon Goldson #38 of the San Francisco 49ers returns an interception looking to put a move on Darren Sproles #43 of the New Orleans Saints during the Divisional Playoffs at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

According to CSN Bay AreaSan Francisco 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson reportedly requested a contract comparable to the one the San Diego Chargers' Eric Weddle received. The details of Weddle’s agreement were five years and $40 million with $19 million guaranteed.

Given that this was one of the richest contracts for a safety in league history behind Eric Berry (six year, $60 million), it informs us that Goldson believes he’s one of the league’s top safeties and deserves the financial recognition.

There is no predicting Goldson’s actions, and whether or not he conducts a lengthy holdout is still to be determined. In 2011, the 49ers were not willing to extend him long-term and he had to come back on a one-year deal. In 2012, San Francisco used its franchise tag on Goldson, which remains unsigned but would pay the safety $6.212 million for the season.

But Goldson means business: he has been a no-show at OTAs and has even gone as far to switch representation, dropping his superstar sports agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

So if Goldson’s demands begin to threaten time in regular-season games, who should the 49ers be preparing to start in his absence?

The 49ers used a late-round draft pick in 2012 on Michigan State’s standout defensive back, Trenton Robinson. San Francisco also has special teams studs C.J. Spillman and Colin Jones competing for time at the position. But someone who is more physically talented and needs to see more playing time will be one of last year’s rookies.

The 49ers’ third-round draft pick from 2011, Chris Culliver, should have an opportunity to compete for the starting safety position in training camp.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22:  Chris Culliver #29 of the San Francisco 49ers walks off the field after the 49ers lost the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The Giants
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Culliver played free safety at the collegiate level when he was a South Carolina Gamecock. At 6’0, 199 pounds, he was a very physical defensive back in press coverage and tackling ability. In 2009, Culliver was a second-team All-SEC safety as a junior. In 12 games that season, he finished third on the team with 62 tackles—the year before he recorded three interceptions.

When Culliver was on the field, he played sound football.

The issue was that Culliver was bitten by the injury bug (torn pectoral) in his senior season, causing his draft stock to slightly drop, but still be good for a third-round selection. He has great potential and played very well when asked to step up in 2011 for the 49ers. He is a confident player that plays with a chip on his shoulder, very fitting of the 49ers mentality.

Culliver also makes sense with the 49ers being so loaded at the cornerback position—it’s about putting the best 11 players on the field. The Niners could afford to change Culliver’s position because of the play of Tarell Brown, and having capable cornerbacks like Perrish Cox and Tremaine Brock as Nos. 3 and 4.

And what’s kept Goldson as the 49ers’ starting safety is his ability to make plays on the football and deliver crushing blows to offensive players. These are two things that would not drop off if Culliver were the 49ers’ starting free safety, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the second-year player make less mental mistakes than Goldson.  

Culliver also has top-flight speed, which translates into great closing speed as a defenseman.

He has much better play-after-the-catch ability than Goldson does. At South Carolina, Culliver displayed his excellent speed and quickness on his way to establishing himself as the Gamecocks' all-time leader in kick returns (92) and kick return yards (2,215)—fifth all-time in the SEC. He can use his 4.4 40 speed to make all eleven guys miss, whether it be a kick or interception return.    

And the defense he would be surrounded with is the league's best, and it would assist Culliver in his transition to a starter opposite Donte Whitner.  With the immense pressure from the front seven forcing ducks in the air, it should be relatively easy for Culliver.

Ideally, Goldson will return to the 49ers and play under the franchise tag and help provide continuity while San Francisco makes a serious go at a Lombardi Trophy in 2012. For as close as this unit is, it’d be surprising to see Goldson let down his teammates with a selfish act such as a lengthy holdout. Especially since the 49ers are set in their ways and they will find a way to make it work with or without Goldson.

And even if Goldson does return this year but isn’t in the team’s long-term plans for the free safety position, it’d be nice to see Culliver get a crack at the job in the future.

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