There are very few players you can afford to overpay. Most of them are quarterbacks, like the recently very-well compensated Drew Brees. Some are cornerstone defensive players, guys like the 49ers’ Patrick Willis, or stud pass rushers like Demarcus Ware. These are guys who make the team go, the guys other teams mention by name and gameplan around. With those sorts of guys, you can afford to pay more than market rate, more than what stats might indicate, because those guys are critical to a team’s success.
Dashon Goldson is not on that list. And that’s why, for 2012, Goldson will be playing under the franchise tag instead of the long-term deal he covets.
Don’t get me wrong. Goldson is a very good player. He had 6 interceptions (tied for the team lead), 56 solo tackles and 13 assists (third on the team), one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery (all stats according to http://www.pro-football-reference.com). Those numbers marked Goldson as one of the leagues top safeties, confirmed by his selection to the Pro-Bowl. They earned him the franchise tag, which designates him to be paid like one of the top-5 safeties in the league at about 6.2 million dollars.
(Of course, there IS a reason that the franchise tag value for safeties is the second lowest number, ahead of only tight ends. There IS a reason safeties rarely go high in the first round of the draft. That reason? They simply aren’t that important.)
Those numbers, though, were not good enough to secure Goldson a long-term contract to his liking. Perhaps he was hoping for something like Michael Griffin’s 5-year, 35 million dollar contract, or Eric Weddle’s 5-year, 40 million dollar contract. The 49ers were not willing to pay that much money for Goldson. They were not going to do what the Chargers and Titans did: overpay.
The 49ers, it appears, are perfectly content to wait out Dashon Goldson. Prior to last season, they offered Goldson a 5-year, 25 million dollar contract, which he declined. That would have been good value for both sides, but Goldson wanted more. The 49ers don’t, satisfied that either he’ll play for them at the price they think he deserves, or he head out for greener pastures and the 49ers will move on without him.
That is, after all, the pattern the 49ers are developing. Aubrayo Franklin thought he deserved more money than the 49ers were willing to give, so he walked—and the 49ers let him. Same thing with David Baas and Adam Snyder. Think about how the 49ers handled the Alex Smith negotiations. They laid out the price they thought was fair, and stuck by it. Smith visited Miami, perhaps seeking a backup option or perhaps trying to jack up the price, but the 49ers did not budge. Eventually, they got Smith at about what they initially offered him, at a modest (for an NFL starting QB) $8 million per season.
By God, I wish more teams behaved like GM Trent Baalke and the rest of the 49ers front office. Teams that are willing to dramatically overpay for players, like the Bills did for Mario Williams, encourage players seeking big paydays. They not only hurt themselves by weighing down their team with bloated contracts, but they make it more difficult for teams to retain their own top talent. GMs should take after teams like the Patriots, the Steelers, the Packers, the teams that believe in good drafting, coaching and talent development. There IS a reason those teams are consistently successful.
Jim Harbaugh, in particular, seems to believe in player development. At Stanford, he had a couple of walk-on players turn into No. 1 receivers in Ryan and Griff Whalen (no relation). Ryan ended up drafted in the 6th round of last year’s draft. He’s also combed his former Stanford team for players, signing them in bunches as undrafted free agents—Chase Beeler, Konrad Reuland, Matt Masafilo, Chris Owusu, and so on. Alex Boone was a UDFA, and he is expected to start at right guard; Ian Williams and DeMarcus Dobbs are former UDFAs expected to be the team’s backups along the defensive line.
I’m currently an assistant freshman football coach at my old high school. I coach the offensive and defensive lines, and I love it. I spend the early part of my day teaching young kids blocking techniques, running schemes, d-line moves, and so on. I don’t have to deal with player contracts, recruiting, or anything like that, but what I do know is this: it’s a lot easier to work with the kid who wants to be there, who wants to learn, who wants to get better, than it is with the one who is obsessed with his own talents, talents that he may or may not have.
Dashon Goldson has not yet signed his franchise tender. Eventually, he will, and the 49ers will have a good safety and one of their top defensive players at a reasonable cap hit of 6.2 million dollars. But should he walk away after this season, I don’t think the 49ers will shed many tears. It’s not their style.