SANTA CLARA - Dashon Goldson didn't mince words last month when he said didn't want to be stuck with the franchise tag for a second consecutive year.
"I felt that they wanted me to prove myself, and I think I did just that," the 49ers safety said as he was cleaning out his locker two days after the Super Bowl. "So if I was in the position again with the franchise tag, I'd be very surprised."
Goldson got his wish Monday and escaped the franchise tag - it would have meant a one-year deal worth $7.45 million - but it's unknown if the 49ers or any other team will give him the long-term contract he desires.
The 49ers currently have $1 million in salary-cap space. They will gain $9.75 million more when they trade quarterback Alex Smith later this month, and there would be another $3 million in savings by releasing kicker David Akers, which is expected.
Still, the 49ers already have given long-term contracts to several defensive players - Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks among them - in recent years, and there has been little progress
General manager Trent Baalke would not get into specifics at the scouting combine last month, but he did say this about his free-agent class: "It's all about value, making sure you get the right value on players. You can't pay everybody, and you certainly can't pay everybody if you're overpaying others."
The 49ers want to work a long-term deal with tight end Delanie Walker, another key contributor from the 2012 season, who also appears poised to test free agency. They'd also like to re-sign one of their two free-agent nose tackles, Ricky Jean Francois and Isaac Sopoaga.
Beyond that, they could stand to sign a defensive lineman, a receiver or a cornerback in free agency. Defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, released by the Eagles last month, will visit the 49ers today.
They also have some pricey contracts to consider in future seasons.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is signed for two more years and can begin discussing an extension at the end of next season. Cornerback Tarell Brown and defensive end Justin Smith have only one more year on their contracts; receiver Michael Crabtree and linebacker Aldon Smith have two more seasons remaining.
Baalke said the 49ers also were examining contract extensions for a few players.
"But it takes both sides to be able to come together on a number," he said. "And sometimes you're able to do that, and sometimes you're not. We're going to work hard at it, be diligent at it, but we're also going to make sure we make good decisions."
As for Goldson, he was one of the top safeties in the league the past two seasons, finishing with nine interceptions during that span and at times acting like a third inside linebacker against the opponent's running game.
He was named to both the Pro Bowl and, for the first-time
After the Super Bowl, Jim Harbaugh said that Goldson was one of the players who "deserved" to be rewarded with a long-term deal. Goldson said he wanted that security of such a contract but that he would look beyond San Francisco if
"Somewhere, anywhere," Goldson said. "Hopefully it will be here, but I'm open to all 32 teams."
If the 49ers lose safety Dashon Goldson, here's at look at how they might replace him:
C.J. Spillman: He is every bit as hard-hitting and aggressive as Goldson, and the 49ers have used him in goal-line and short-yardage situations the past two years. He got a lot of practice with the first-team defense in 2011 when Goldson was shopping himself in free agency and Reggie Smith was hurt. However, he lacks game-day experience and to this point has been more of a tackler/enforcer than a player who understands the nuances of coverage.
Darcel McBath: He's a restricted free agent this year who has a history with defensive backs coach Ed Donatell. McBath mostly was limited to special teams this year. But it's noteworthy that when Goldson had to briefly leave a game it was McBath who replaced him. The 49ers are likely to use the lowest-possible tender to retain McBath for one more season. He was a second-round pick by Denver in 2009.
Trenton Robinson: The team's 2012 sixth-round pick mostly spent his rookie campaign learning. He garnered high praise from Jim Harbaugh at the scouting combine (Really, though, when has Harbaugh ever not dunked one of his players in praise) and showed a nose for the football at Michigan State. He's small for the position (5-foot-9, 193 pounds), which would make for decidedly short safety tandem with Donte Whitner (5-10, 208).
Michael Thomas: He spent the season on the 49ers practice squad but garnered interest from other squads by the end of the season. Like Robinson, Thomas is sub-6-foot, but as you would expect from a Stanford product, he's also very smart. Vic Fangio coached Thomas at Stanford and is fond of him.
Other options: The safety position is solid both in free agency and the draft, which perhaps is why the 49ers feel secure in allowing Goldson to test the open market. It includes one of the two best safeties in the last decade and a half, Baltimore's Ed Reed, as well as several college players expected to go in the first- or second-rounds like Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, LSU's Eric Reid, Florida's Matt Elam and South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger.
- Matthew Barrows