The 2013 season is a wrap for the San Francisco 49ers, but before we take the deep dive into free agency and look ahead to 2014, we're going to take an initial look at that season that was for each position group. We moved over to the defensive side of the ball on Monday with a look at the cornerbacks. Today we continue in the defensive secondary with a look at the safeties.
The 49ers made a calculated gamble in 2013, letting All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson walk, and moving up in the first round to draft LSU safety Eric Reid. The move paid huge dividends, as Reid not only filled Goldson's shoes, but actually out-performed Goldson by a good deal in virtually all aspects of the game. He was the big story, but Donte Whitner had a resurgence at strong safety, setting up an incredibly strong defensive backfield in 2013.
By the end of the season, Donte Whitner had played 95.11% of all defensive snaps, and Eric Reid had played 92.29% of all defensive snaps. There were some concerns over the course of the year, but overall, the safeties were in good shape in 2013. I've included some discussion about the reserve safeties, but it is fairly limited because they rarely got in at safety. They were primarily special teams players, and we'll have more on the special teams units at the end of this series.
Donte Whitner - 16 games | 73 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 7 missed tackles, 12 stops | PFF: 11.5, 3.9 run D, 10.7 pass D, -2.4 penalty | In coverage: 602 snaps, 48 targets, 25 receptions, 286 yards, 2 TDs, 24.1 coverage snaps per reception (No. 25) | Combined Tackling Efficiency: 11.7 (No. 18, 7th in run, 36th in pass)
Heading into the 2013 season, the biggest critique about Donte Whitner was his coverage skills. In 2013 though, we saw a bit of a revelation from Whitner. He was not perfect in coverage, but he showed serious improvement. Late in the season, he mentioned that DC Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell had told him he needed to improve. They showed him tape and offered pointed criticisms of his work in coverage. He took that message to heart and I think we saw noticeable improvement this season.
The big issue for Whitner remained the penalties. He is a big hitter, and unfortunately, in this era of "safety first", he received numerous personal foul penalties. He avoided fines all season long, but they team still lost 15 yards each time he was flagged. His decision to try and change his name to Donte Hitner likely did not do much to help his cause. Instead, he had a big target on his back all season.
He heads into the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. He was a key leader for the defense, but given that he is only 28 years old, one has to wonder if he finds himself with a sizable offer from another team. The 49ers will not break the bank to bring Whitner back. I think we see them let him test free agency, and if the right offer isn't there, maybe he then returns. My guess is he ends up walking.
2014 status: Unrestricted free agent
Eric Reid - 16 games | 77 total tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 14 stops, 13 missed tackles | PFF: 4.7, 1.1 run D, 1.9 pass D, 1.6 penalty | In coverage: 610 snaps, 50 targets, 33 receptions, 378 yards, 2 TDs, 18.5 snaps per reception (No. 46) | Combined Tackling Efficiency: 6.2 (No. 51, 30th in run, 60th in pass)
The 49ers swapped first round picks with the Dallas Cowboys, and threw in a third round pick to move up to the No. 18 spot and draft LSU safety Eric Reid. There were mixed reactions as some had Reid further down their board. The 49ers were proven correct on this one, as Trent Baalke got his man to man the free safety position.
Through one season, Eric Reid outperformed departed safety Dashon Goldson. Additionally, he avoided the stupid penalties that have cost Dashon Goldson hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a suspension in 2013, and cost his team significant penalty yards. Reid is a smart player, and we saw that in the way he tackles players, particularly those of the defenseless variety.
The two negative marks for Reid would be his tackling and his injury concerns. I thought he was generally solid all season, but he had some problems with missed tackles. The PFF tackling efficiency stats show it, and we all can remember some of those misses. As he learns more about the NFL game, and experiences more situations, I think we'll see that improve.
Injuries cost him snaps, but actually did not cost him any games. And yet, I think a lot of us remain hesitant about what the future holds with Reid. He suffered two concussions as a rookie, and given the concerns with regard to concussions, that will remain in the back of our minds when he is out there. He has said he started adjusting his tackling form, so we'll see how that plays out next year and beyond
2014 status: Signed through 2016 | Base: $790,489; Cap: $1,927,444
C.J. Spillman - 16 games | 25 tackles, 4 stops | PFF: 1.1 pass coverage
Spillman has filled in as a dime back, and occasionally as a spot safety option. He has never been able to really move past that kind of role. He remains a top notch special teams player, however.
2014 status: Signed through 2014 | Base: $1,225,000; Cap: $1,558,334
Craig Dahl - 16 games | 13 tackles, 1 blocked kick, 2 stops | PFF: -0.5, 0.5 run D, -1.0 pass D
The 49ers signed Dahl primarily for special teams play, but he also filled in for Eric Reid when the 49ers rookie went down with his concussions. Dahl is not a particularly good safety, and Rams fans were excited when the 49ers signed him. He has two years left on his deal, so we'll see how the team uses him on defense.
2014 status: Signed through 2015 | Base: $1,350,000; Cap: $1,883,333