San Francisco 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner is having an outstanding season, one which also happens to be a contract year. The 49ers responded to Dashon Goldson’s contract year by letting him go and selecting Eric Reid in the first round of the draft.
Whether or not the 49ers will be willing to sign Whitner to an extension is unknown, but he has a pretty good idea how the fans feel after tweeting the following question.
Y’all want me here next year?
— DonteHitner (@DonteWhitner) December 17, 2013
“I just wanted to see the fans’ reaction. Almost 99% said yeah,” according to Whitner.
Wait, some fans said they didn’t want him back?
Those fans probably have an ulterior motive. Whitner has made six tackles against each team this season while allowing an average of 13 yards per game in coverage over four contests against the Rams and Seahawks. He also had a memorable interception in St. Louis.
Since the 49ers are a top-five pass defense this season while integrating a rookie free safety and a cornerback who barely played last year, it seems pretty obvious that 49ers fans would be in favor of rewarding Whitner. The 49ers have been a winning team since Whitner signed as a free agent before the 2011 season, and by and large fans aren’t salary cap experts. So why seek their opinion?
“I just wanted to see the fans’ input on it. I pretty much knew what they were going to say, but it was good to see that. That’s why I did it,” Whitner said.
The majority of 49ers fans were in favor of re-signing Goldson after the Super Bowl, but it certainly wasn’t unanimous. Goldson’s game, which stands out on TV when he’s upending a receiver, is polarizing. Even though Goldson was a first-team All-Pro in 2012, Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the league’s 20th best safety. Also, many fans understood the risk of spending top-five safety money on a guy who the NFL seemed interested in legislating out of the league.
Whitner made a big deal about the name change to “Hitner” earlier in the season, but the NFL doesn’t seem to be targeting him in the same way they have with Goldson, who was penalized seven times last year and suspended for one game in 2013. Whitner has certainly made his fair share of hits this season, but more impressive has been his play in coverage (PFF has Whitner as the second best coverage safety in 2013 after finishing 67th in that category a year ago) and his work as a mentor to Reid.
Besides Reid and Craig Dahl, the other safeties on the roster — C.J. Spillman and Bubba Ventrone — are mostly known as special teams guys. Unless the 49ers are planning on spending another high draft pick on a safety (very unlikely) or think there are some other options on the market that could bring similar production at a lower cost than Whitner (four of PFF’s top eight safeties will be unrestricted free agents in 2014, including Whitner), they’re going to have to seriously consider making Whitner and his fans happy. As for Whitner, he enjoys the feedback … mostly, anyway.
“I like to keep a relationship with the fans,” said Whitner. “The only time you don’t like to know the input is when there’s something negative going on. When it’s something positive, you love to hear the input. There’s been a lot of good input, so we’ll see what happens.”