San Francisco 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner isn’t an elite safety like top free agents Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, but he is definitely a great safety in his own right and deserves to receive a hefty contract. In fact, it can be argued that it’s better to go after Whitner than Ward at strong safety, since Whitner will likely cost significantly less. He isn’t nearly as instinctive or fast in run defense as Ward, but he’s at least as good as Ward in coverage and hits even harder. I was incredibly impressed by Whitner’s play this past season, as his coverage significantly improved, and he is also one of the league’s finest tacklers. Not only does he hit hard, but he also has great form. Most of the penalties he receives are stupid ones, as he is the victim of getting called for hitting with the helmet when he actually led with his shoulder, leading me to believe that he’s fined on reputation and essentially for hitting hard.
Anyway, Whitner is an excellent option on the open market this offseason, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch reports that the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, and Chicago Bears are the three teams showing the “most interest” in the 49ers safety. Branch adds that the Niners are “still pushing” to re-sign him before free agency opens up tomorrow, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were able to keep him. For the record, the USA Today’s Tom Pelissero believes that the 49ers will end up re-signing Whitner, and speculation from an NFL Insider is always worth watching for closely.
Whitner would be a huge upgrade for any of those three teams, and he would be a great, cheaper replacement for Ward if the Browns are unable to keep the Oregon product around. The Jets also need safety help, but they should really go after a free safety in deep coverage instead. I feel the same way about the Chicago Bears, but Whitner and Mike Mitchell- another solid safety the team is interested in- would be very good signings anyway, and I’m sure the Bears are looking to add multiple new starters in the secondary, in addition to going after Michael Bennett. The big issue, of course, is how much they are willing to spend.