Pro Bowl Safety Donte Whitner is without a doubt having his best season since joining the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. Through 12 games, Whitner has 59 tackles to go along with two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Whitner is in the final year of a three-year, $11.75 million contract. What Niner fans are hoping for with The Hitner in the off-season is to not see a repeat of former San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson bolting from the team to sign a big contract. Last season was Goldson’s second in a row to be named as a Pro Bowler and his first as an All-Pro. He signed a five-year, $41.25 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the off-season.
The loss of Goldson has been mostly forgotten thanks to rookie Eric Reid playing like veteran in the 49ers’ secondary. Retaining Whitner will be expensive for GM Trent Baalke, but paying him top-money would be worth it because of his leadership, coverage skills and the jarring hits he is known for on the field.
Currently, the 49ers have 11 selections for the 2014 NFL draft, including four in the first-three rounds. After conditional picks are handed out in the off-season, the 49ers could have as many as 13-14 selections. With so many picks, Baalke again could go the route of trading up in the first-round to draft an immediate impact player at safety, like they did with Reid. Another route is free agency with safeties like Bernard Pollard and Chris Clemons set to be unrestricted free agents after the season.
There is no guarantee, even with Baalke’s eye for talent, that the 49ers can duplicate the success they have had with Reid with a rookie starting at strong safety. Plus, it wouldn’t be wise to have the safety positions have a combined one-year of NFL experience heading into the 2014 season.
Going through free agency to find a Whitner replacement does not make sense either because the 49ers would still have to pay top dollar. That is if San Francisco wants to replace Whitner with a player who has a proven track record and is a veteran. But if you are going to pay a lot of money to a veteran, it might as well be Whitner who has proven to be a tremendous safety each season he has been in San Francisco.
One area where Whitner has been so valuable is his mentoring of Reid in the secondary. Back in October, Reid said Whitner has taught him how to use his eyes on the field and,
He’s shown me how to get to the next level. It’s a credit to him.
Whitner recently said he wants to stay with the 49ers. But he knows the NFL is a business and what he wants, might be different from what Baalke and the rest of the front office have in mind at strong safety. He was asked last week about the contract talks and said:
There’s no news on that front. I want to be here, but like every team they have whatever they’re going to do. They have their cap, they have guys that they want to be bring back. I don’t know. We have five regular-season games left, so we’ll see where it goes from there. I definitely want to be here. I think we have something special on this defense. Young guy like Eric Reid, I like playing with him. I like this secondary and the rest of the guys. I like coming to work. So we’ll see what happens.