Dashon Goldson 49ersThe 49ers officially have a problem in the secondary. After letting him test the market in 2011 and franchising the hard-hitting safety last offseason, the 49ers are again faced with Dashon Goldson’s impending free agency.

Jim Harbaugh said Goldson deserves to be rewarded this offseason and seeing as the Hawk doesn’t want to be franchise tagged again, it appears a long term contract is the only way to get him back into a 49ers uniform for 2013.

As BASG pointed out, Harbaugh could see tagging the safety again as the “reward” he’s talking about. The salary for franchised players is the average of the five highest-paid players at their respective position. In this case, Goldson would be getting paid $7.45M if he was tagged again. That’s only $550,000 a year less than the $8M he’s rumored to be asking for, so what’s the big deal, right?

The problem is simple: franchise tagging Goldson would make him the second highest paid safety in the league behind only Troy Polamalu, who’s set to earn $7.5M in 2013. Polamalu’s contract is an overpayment at this stage of his career, so a better comparison might be Eric Weddle, whose 5-year, $40M contract comes close to what Goldson is seeking. Ultimately, paying Goldson what he’s asking for would make him one of the three highest paid safeties in the NFL.

With so much work to be done on the 49ers’ payroll, is Goldson worth being paid top safety money? Weddle is widely regarded as one of the best safeties in the league and at first glance Buffalo Bills’ Jairus Byrd is the most comparable player at his position in the free agent market. Here are their 2012 regular season statistics, side by side.

Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus

While Byrd was clearly the more solid safety of the three in 2012, it appears the Chargers asked Weddle to do more. Even then, Weddle wasn’t far behind Byrd. Goldson wasn’t close to either of them, however. He missed three times as many tackles Byrd missed, and the Buffalo Bill was superior in nearly every category.

PFF’s advanced scores show an even larger discrepancy.

Scores are out of 88 safeties, courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Scores are out of 88 safeties, courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Goldson graded out as by far the worst of the three safeties in every category except for pass rush. The differences are startling. While PFF isn’t the be-all/end-all when it comes to gauging a players worth, both regular and advanced statistics show Goldson isn’t worth nearly the money Weddle and Byrd are.

So how much should the 49ers pay for Goldson?

Here’s where it gets tricky — the top of the pay scale for safeties is absolutely littered with bad contracts.

Rankings courtesy of Pro Football Focus, salaries courtesy of Rotoworld

Rankings courtesy of Pro Football Focus, contract details courtesy of Rotoworld

Conversely, there are some contracts in need of restructuring among PFF’s top ten safeties.

Rankings courtesy of Pro Football Focus, contract details courtesy of Rotoworld

Rankings courtesy of Pro Football Focus, contract details courtesy of Rotoworld

Finally, here is a look at some of the safeties that graded out similarly to Goldson.

Rankings courtesy of Pro Football Focus, salaries courtesy of Rotoworld

Rankings courtesy of Pro Football Focus, contract details courtesy of Rotoworld

Clearly the 49ers will get nowhere offering Goldson a contract as frugal as Harrison Smith’s or Kam Chancellor’s, but they would be grossly overpaying if they gave him a contract like Weddle’s. One possibility would be to wait and see what kind of money William Moore gets paid, but perhaps a fair barometer would be the contracts Kerry Rhodes and Tyvon Branch received.

Rhodes’ deal, signed in 2008, is worth $33.5M over five years. $20M of it is guaranteed, including a $2M roster bonus in the third season of the deal with workout bonuses included. Branch’s deal, signed last offseason, is good for $26.6M over four years. $17.6M of it is guaranteed, and it includes a $5.6M signing bonus, a $3.5M roster bonus in the contract’s second year along with various incentives. Both deals even out to around $6.6M per year — considerably less than what Goldson is asking for, but nothing to sneeze at nonetheless.

The 49ers certainly have their work cut out for them if they plan on nailing down a fiscally responsible contract for the Hawk, and they’d better have a backup plan if he decides to take his services elsewhere.