Craig Dahl started 16 games for the St. Louis Rams in 2012, but there’s no guarantee he’ll start even one for the 49ers in 2013.
It’s possible, of course, but it appears the Niners want Dahl for depth, versatility and insurance rather than as a first option to replace the departed Dashon Goldson, now with Tampa Bay.
The team’s courting of free agents Charles Woodson and Louis Delmas over the past week seems to indicate the team has its sights set a bit higher than Dahl, a former free agent from North Dakota State who started 40 games for the Rams over the past four seasons, reports Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
In addition, the 49ers have a first-round pick and two second-round draft choices this April – among as many as 14 picks – and USA Today’s Jeff Curry reported the Niners may be ready to select from a deep crop of safeties, among them USC’s T.J. McDonald, Georgia’s Baccari Rambo, Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, Florida International’s Johnathan Cyprien and LSU’s Eric Reid.
Branch, in fact, reported that the Niners have “spent plenty of time doing background” on Reid, projected as a second-round pick.
If the Niners choose to go that direction in the draft, they would still have the experienced Dahl to step in if a rookie should falter, along with C.J. Spillman and Trenton Robinson.
Mike Sando, the NFC West blogger for ESPN.com, wrote that Dahl’s signing to a three-year deal could help the 49ers in a couple of ways. He brings experience at safety, but also has been a good special teams player, where he has 38 tackles over the past four seasons.
“I’m not sure if the 49ers view Dahl as a likely starter,” wrote Sando. “He would appear to be part of a lower-cost approach to the position. If the 49ers had been willing to pay top dollar for a safety, they presumably would have re-signed Goldson or named him their franchise player for a second consecutive season.”
Going for Reid in the second round, too, would be a longer-term, lower-cost option than retaining Goldson or going after a player such as Woodson.
Reid was a first-team All-America pick in 2012 after being a second-team All-America selection in 2011. He led the LSU secondary in tackles with 91 this past season and had two interceptions. He is ranked No. 3 among all draft-eligible safeties by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. and 42nd among all NFL prospects. He is 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds.
By going for a rookie and a lower-cost option in Dahl, the 49ers could also be saving some money to pursue free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugah, who visited with San Francisco last week.
Dahl , meanwhile, told reporters the 49ers didn’t promise him a starting spot.
“They told me that there was an opportunity to play in the void at the safety position in the secondary,” Dahl told Bay Area reporters. “I’m hoping to come in here and mesh well with the secondary and fill that void.”
Dahl said he expects the Niners to add more players to the safety competition.
“Whether I’m lined up out there from day one, it’s always going to be competition to keep your job once you’re the starter,” Dahl said, according to Branch. “I’m grateful for the opportunity I was given and I hope to be that guy.”