The blood-letting is officially on across the NFL, as teams are starting to cut veterans to clear cap space. The Saints went big the other day when they released safety Roman Harper, cornerback Jabari Greer and DE/OLB Will Smith, while also stating they will not re-sign ILB Jonathan Vilma. Today, the Lions released safety Louis Delmas, and wide receiver Nate Burleson.
Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus reminded us about the 49ers pursuit of Delmas last year in free agency. There was chatter about Delmas, but it was relatively low key. Jim Harbaugh confirmed the team had visited with Delmas, but he left town and eventually returned to the Lions. This afternoon, Deeney offered him up as a potential replacement for Donte Whitner if the 49ers do not bring back the veteran strong safety:
Louis Delmas had a +2.0 overall grade last year (23rd of 67 safeties). +5.4 coverage grade, -1.5 vs. run. #49ers— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) February 13, 2014
Agreed. Missed 13/32 games in 2011-12, but played 1058/1071 snaps in 13. RT: @Tre9er Health is the biggest concern. He can play when healthy— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) February 13, 2014
From PFF's own grading system, they rated Whitner the No. 6 safety in the NFL, while rating Delmas No. 26. Whitner would have been fifth if the NFL either correctly called personal foul penalties, or at least offered up some sort of review process of those kind of bang-bang plays. But we've beaten our head against the wall enough on that subject!
There has been little word on what the 49ers will look to do with their free agents, or existing contracts. We've heard Anquan Boldin wants to return to the 49ers, and the 49ers want him back, but that's not exactly a shocking piece of news. Donte Whitner has made it abundantly clear on Twitter that he wants to return to the 49ers, but there has not been thing one from the 49ers.
The team is often quiet, but even the quietest team will let rumors slip out here and there. For now, it's radio silence. I would love to have Whitner back, but with the various potential contract implications across the roster, I am skeptical the team will pay up. I'm normally more optimistic, but in this case, my hunch is that the two sides will not be able to come to an agreement.
And that's not to say Whitner is greedy or the 49ers are cheap (reminder that we're operating from somewhat of a vacuum of information here). Whitner is young enough to deserve more than one or two years, and as we saw in 2013, he showed that he can still improve his game. Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell leveled with him about his coverage skills, and he worked last year to improve them. He is not perfect in coverage, but he improved from 2011 and 2012. I contend last season was far and away his best season as a member of the 49ers.
If the two sides do part ways, I would generally prefer the team pony up in the draft to get another safety. Delmas struggles to stay healthy, and given the potential cost on the open market, I don't think it's worth going from Whitner to Delmas. I'd rather go Whitner to a first or second round pick, go through some of the lumps, but have that cap space.
And if the 49ers are not comfortable with the 2014 safety class (listen to more safety chatter on the NN podcast), then I would lean more toward figuring out how to bring Whitner back. The team could look for a patchwork option to carry them to next year, but that just does not strike me as how Baalke and company operate. But, it's one more option on the board.