I was listening to Matt Barrows the other day on the radio on some show, I think it was Damon Bruce. In the middle of their conversation, Barrows said something that made me spit out my Emergen-C (little known fact about me: I’m deathly afraid of contracting scurvy).

Barrows was asked which of the 49ers’ upper echelon free agents he expected would sign with a team other than the San Francisco 49ers, and he said … Carlos Rogers.

Wait, what happened to the Rogers who said he’d take a “team discount”? That in lieu of a multimillion dollar signing bonus, Rogers would take his payment in the form of weekly trays of Rice Krispies Treats from Mrs. Harbaugh?

After the season Rogers also went on with Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert. The interview isn’t up on KNBR.com, or else I’d do better than paraphrasing, but Rogers kind of backtracked a bit from the whole “discount” angle. He said that while he’d love to stay with the 49ers, he still wanted to be paid the kind of money elite cornerbacks make. Which begs the question…

Is Carlos Rogers an elite cornerback?

Nnamdi Asomugha was considered to be at the upper range of the nebulous “elite” category before last season, and that designation earned the former Oakland Raider $25 million guaranteed from the Philadelphia Eagles (as part of a 5-year, $60 million deal). Rogers won’t make that kind of money, but as much of a bargain he was at 1-year, $4.25 million, how much money would constitute an overpay?

It’s exceedingly difficult to diagnose good and bad cornerbacking on TV, besides when someone either gets burned repeatedly or holds a great receiver to lower-than-normal production. Interceptions help, too. Rogers collected 6 interceptions, made the Pro Bowl and was named 2nd-Team NFL All-Pro by the Associated Press. He’s got a lot of equity here, and according to Pro Football Focus Rogers had a very good season as well.

PFF’s subscription-only stats have Rogers as their 11th-best CB during the 2011 regular season, behind Darrelle Revis, Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Lardarius Webb, Brandon Flowers, Antoine Winfield, Jason McCourty, William Middleton, Joe Haden and Charles Tillman. Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver finished 39th and 41st, respectively.

Rogers chased Victor Cruz around in the NFC Championship Game, leading writers like Cam Inman to say Rogers had “mixed results in two playoff games.” However, according to PFF Rogers was pretty solid in the playoffs, finishing with the 7th-highest rating among 22 cornerbacks. Brown, who was playing perhaps the best football of his life until getting injured late against the New York Giants, finished 2nd in the postseason ratings to Webb.

The Hawk casts a shadow…

Let’s move onto another member of the 2011 49ers defense who’ll be a free agent: Dashon Goldson, who PFF absolute hates (they have The Hawk ranked 69th out of 86 safeties in 2011, due to his questionable coverage skills and all-too-frequent penalties). However, if we turn again to Barrows it appears the Niners care more about the physicality and intimidation Goldson brings to the defensive backfield than PFF’s rating system:

The 49ers have three safeties — Dashon Goldson, Reggie Smith and Madieu Williams – who will be unrestricted free agents, and a fourth, C.J. Spillman, who is a restricted free agent. Goldson is the priority here and is perhaps second only to quarterback Alex Smith in terms of free agents the team most wants to re-sign. He emerged this year as one of the top safeties in the league, came away with six interceptions, made the Pro Bowl and is only 27 years old.

The 49ers have leverage in this case. Goldson either can sign a five-year deal similar to the one that was offered, but rejected, by Goldson and agent Drew Rosenhaus last year or they can make him their franchise player, which the 49ers could do as early as Feb. 20. That would cost San Francisco roughly $6 million. The other bit of leverage is that there will be a ton of free-agent safeties on the market (see below) which, like last year, will dilute their individual worth. That is, there’s a good chance Goldson will be back.

Interesting. I don’t have a lot to add to that, except my hope that the 49ers don’t overpay for Goldson. He racks up the highlights with his ruthless hitting ability and he also picked off 6 passes, but (in my opinion) he was the only overrated player on the defense in 2011.

Is Brown ready to step into Rogers’ shoes?

Even more than the money Rogers could command, Brown’s late-season ascension tells me we might’ve seen the last of Rogers in San Francisco. If Brown can step into Rogers’ role as the lead CB, and they also have Culliver in his second year, it stands to reason that the Niners might go bargain-hunting for the “next Carlos Rogers” this off-season instead of paying for a 2012 Carlos Rogers at close to 2011 Champ Bailey prices (4 years, $43 million, $22 million guaranteed).

With the 49ers preparing to give Alex Smith a raise and pay for some safeties (and we haven’t even gotten to the receivers or the o-line yet), that might be the way the Niners intend to go.

Still, it would be sad to see Rogers go, correct?

Absolutely. He made plays all season, outperformed his contract and — least importantly, but still a bonus — he’s a good interview subject. That’s why he’s on the radio all the damned time.

After one of the best, if not THE best seasons a 49ers defense has ever had, common sense says DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. The Niners have too many free agents on the defensive side, though. They won’t be able to keep Rogers, Goldson and Ahmad Brooks without neglecting the offense as they get closer to the salary cap ceiling, and that wouldn’t do.