Free agency is set to begin Tuesday morning and there are already an assortment of rumors swirling around one of the San Francisco 49ers that are scheduled to become a free agent. That player is Donte Whitner. Last year Dashon Goldson moved on as he signed a big contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a result, the 49ers traded up to draft Eric Reid in the 2013 NFL draft. This decision worked out for the 49ers as Eric Reid actually had a better season than Goldson. This year the 49ers may be presented with the same situation once again.
The safety edition of the free agent carousel may get off to a fast start on Tuesday. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Cleveland Browns have “considerable interest” in adding Whitner. This is a good match for both parties. The Browns are in need of veteran leadership and the physical play that Whitner brings would fit right into the tough AFC North division. Whitner was born in Cleveland and went to high school in Cleveland as well. He played his college football at Ohio State University so his roots run deep in Ohio.
The Browns, Chicago Bears and New York Jets are all prospective suitors for Whitner according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. Whitner would replace T.J. Ward in Cleveland or Major Wright in Chicago, both of which are free agents. There has been some talk that the 49ers may be interested in Ward which would be a homecoming also. Ward was born in San Francisco and played his high school football at De La Salle.
As per sources, the 49ers do still have interest in retaining Whitner. If they are not able to do so, the best move for the 49ers would be to turn to the draft and select a safety early because he would need to be a starter right away. They had a formal interview with Louisville safety Calvin Pryor. Pryor may be there for them when they pick at the 30th slot. Pryor told me that he met with Defensive Backs coach Ed Donatell and that he really likes the aggressive style of play that the 49ers have on defense. He also told me that he would love to get the chance to play along side Eric Reid.
LISTEN TO MY INTERVIEW WITH CALVIN PRYOR VIA PRO FOOTBALL CENTRAL
Two other safeties that could come in and start early would be Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois and Deone Bucannon from Washington State. Ward is probably the best cover safety in this draft class. He can drop down in the box and cover receivers with ease. Just watch his 2012 game against Florida State for evidence. He covered Kelvin Benjamin in the slot and did the same against Rashad Greene.
Bucannon is my top rated safety in this draft. He is a gold helmet player and would mesh perfectly with Reid. I talk to Bucannon often and every time we talk about football, I can feel the love that he has for the game. Bucannon hits as hard as any safety in this draft yet he can cover well also. Take a look at his combine results and you will see that he tested better than Ha Ha Clinton Dix. He was highly productive over his college career at Washington State. Bucannon had 15 career interceptions, 13.5 tackles for loss and 270 tackles. The 49ers have not been in contact with him at this point but that doesn’t mean he has no chance of becoming a 49er. He was born in Oakland and played high school football at Vanden High School in Fairfield.
LISTEN TO MY INTERVIEW WITH DEONE BUCANNON VIA PRO FOOTBALL CENTRAL
The 49ers already have a significant amount of money invested in the defense and that will only increase with the upcoming deal for Aldon Smith. The safety position is one that the 49ers can fill through the draft. This will allow them to still get good play from the position but at a deep discount. They will need as much roster flexibility as possible because they have to worry about the Michael Crabtree and Colin Kaepernick contracts on the other side of the ball. The window of opportunity is still there for the 49ers as they still have their core players in tact.