How Goldson's departure affects 49ers' draft

Coming off their defeat in the Super Bowl, the 49ers are priming themselves for another opportunity at a title. Armed with 13 draft picks, Trent Baalke and his staff will rely heavily on rookies to fill crucial roster spots. In a free series leading up to the draft, we will take a look at the team's additions and losses and evaluate how they could affect the 49ers' draft process.

Dashon Goldson, unrestricted free agent, signed with Tampa Bay

The News

The biggest loss incurred by San Francisco this offseason was all-pro free safety Dashon Goldson, who signed a five-year, $41.25 million deal with Buccaneers. The Washington alum will net $18 million guaranteed. Goldson was a 49er for six seasons and started for four-straight years, making 273 tackles, 14 interceptions and forcing six fumbles.

The Analysis

Although Goldson played at a high enough level to garner back-to-back Pro Bowl selections and an All-Pro nod, San Francisco never believed he was valuable enough to garner the type of long-term contract he received with Tampa Bay. After being drafted in the fourth round in 2008 under then general manager Scot McCloughan, Goldson earned the starting safety job as a 25-year-old in 2009 and struggle with consistency until becoming a very productive player in 2011, where he was elected to his first Pro Bowl.

After the lockout as an unrestricted free agent looking for a long-term contract, Goldson reportedly met with the New England Patriots before deciding to return to the 49ers under a modest one-year, $1.2 million deal. The hard-hitting safety, still motivated by the goal of inking a long-term agreement, went on to have an outstanding season along with the rest of the team's top-rated defense. But Goldson still didn't get what he was looking for as the 49ers elected to franchise the safety to the tune of $6.2 million.

Goldson became known for his support in the running game and ability to intimidate receivers over the middle. But at times he was vulnerable in coverage down the field, as was evident late in the season. And considering the NFL's evolving stance on player safety, Goldson's knack for leading with his head could become problematic down the road. He incurred a number of personal fouls penalties and was reportedly fined upwards of $75,000 for various hits and uniform infractions in 2012.

Going Forward

Goldson's departure makes free safety the 49ers' biggest need coming into the draft. And after trading Alex Smith to Kansas City, the club owns a number of early picks (31, 34 and 61) it could use to draft a safety like Matt Elam, Eric Reid or Jonathan Cyprien that all project within that range. Baalke could elect to use some of his 13 picks to trade up for the top safety Kenny Vaccaro, who would likely earn the starting job from Day 1. Fortunately for San Francisco, there appears to be a great deal of depth at the safety position in this draft.

The 49ers signed free-agent Greg Dahl from St. Louis (more on that later) to add depth to the position. If Dahl starts, it would appear to be an obvious downgrade from Goldson, making the six-year veteran a likely placeholder and/or mentor for a safety the team drafts.

As for Goldson, he joins former first-round pick Mark Barron in the back end of Tampa's secondary, making one of the most talented safety duos in the game. Goldson's addition should help Barron, who struggled some in his rookie season. But Goldson doesn't have luxury of playing behind one of the game's best linebacker groups anymore and will have to adjust accordingly.

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