The 49ers should let Donte Whitner leave during free agency. They reaped benefits from not re-signing Dashon Goldson, who subsequently signed a monstrous deal with the Tampa Bay Buccanners before facing numerous fines and penalties. WhitEriner’s situation is much the same.
Yes, Whitner did not actually pay a fine this past year, but he did receive numerous penalties on big hits–that looked legal to me, but the ref’s decision is what counts. Perhaps a younger guy would get penalized less.
Sure, Whitner was a great mentor for Eric Reid, but the NFL is not a sentimental league. It is definitely not fun to see a player of this caliber and with his leadership ability walk away, but the interests of the team must be first and foremost. Thus, it makes more sense to allocate the millions saved by letting Whitner walk elsewhere. (Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith could use new contracts soon. . .) Besides, Reid has shown maturity beyond his years. Pairing him with a young rookie he could help grow into the role would not only be a great financial move, but would also set the 49ers’ secondary up for a decade of success. After seeing a certain team from the Pacific Northwest dominate through its secondary, the 49ers will definitely have their eye on improving what has been a perennial weakness (though the safeties have typically been good.)
Ultimately, while Whitner is an excellent locker room presence, a great teammate, and an even better football player, the 49ers simply do not have the cap space to keep a soon to be 29 year old oft-penalized safety.