The 49ers face a similar situation as they approach free agency at the safety position. Last season, it was Dashon Goldson who signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a whopping $41.25 million with the contract being five years.
This time around, Donte Whitner is a free agent as his three-year contract expires. Here is a closer look at the safety position for the 49ers:
Under contract in 2014: Eric Reid, Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman, Ray "Bubba" Ventrone, D.J. Campbell
Free agent: Donte Whitner
It would not be surprising if the 49ers don't give an offer to Whitner as he tests the free agent market. Last offseason, the team didn't make an offer with Goldson before he signed his deal in Tampa Bay. In an ideal world, the 49ers would like him back, but realistically, it appears he will not be affordable.
The 49ers will need to make the decision on whether to keep Whitner or Anquan Boldin on the team. It will be a domino effect everywhere else as other moves from free agent signings and possible extensions will take place. If Boldin becomes retained, Whitner is as good as gone.
Craig Dahl would be penciled in as the starting SS assuming Whitner signs with another team. He started 42 games in his career which includes all of the 2012 season with the St. Louis Rams. Dahl was mostly a special teams player on kickoff and punt coverage units who did a good job at covering the lanes.
Last season showed that it isn't impossible to replace a long-time safety when Reid took the FS spot in place of Goldson. Reid was consistent for majority of the season only allowing a handful of receptions and no penalties in 2013. It wasn't until Week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons where he allowed his first touchdown. The rookie safety has also not had any illegal hits compared to Goldson, who has been fined numerous times and even earned a suspension.
C.J. Spillman could be a dark-horse to take over the SS position as he has been on the team since 2010. He will be entering his sixth NFL season and has the athleticism to fill in. The 49ers played him as a safety throughout training camp, but he ended up being buried on the depth chart and mostly played on special teams. The team (and media) has yet to see any hard hitting from Spillman, but he is most familiar with Vic Fangio's system out of the remaining safeties under contract.
Ray Ventrone was a special teams player who excelled everywhere from blocking to being on punt and kick coverage units. He was one of the primary blockers for Andy Lee on punts. Meanwhile, D.J. Campbell is a third-year player who was a Panthers seventh-round pick out of Cal. He should competing for both the safety depth chart and on special teams.
Whitner would be too pricey for the 49ers to keep after he iss coming off three excellent seasons in red and gold. The 49ers shouldn't draft a safety in the first-round in back to back years, as they have higher priorities at wide receiver and cornerback. They're expected to take a safety at some point in the draft, but there won't be a clear-cut starter until training camp.