49ers have Rogers, Goldson near top of priority list 

New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers (22) during the second half of the 2011 NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park. - JASON O. WATSON-US PRESSWIRE
  • Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
  • New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers (22) during the second half of the 2011 NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park.

Strong safety Donte Whitner made a stunning statement after the 49ers were ousted in the NFC title game by the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants. "This defense can get better," Whitner said.

Whitner calls the signals for the secondary and has become an unquestioned leader in his first year with the team. The basis for his statement was the fact that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did not have time to install the entire defense during the lockout-shortened season.

The 49ers' 13-3 success was fueled by a defense that did not allow a rushing touchdown for the first 13 games; the 49ers also created 38 turnovers, which tied for the league lead. However, for this defense to get better, they have to stay together.

Three of the team's starters will be free agents if team doesn't re-sign them before the March 13 opening of free agency. They include Pro Bowl participants in cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson and a Pro Bowl alternate in linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

Rogers and Goldson are vying to be the team's second greatest free-agent priority behind quarterback Alex Smith. Both intercepted six passes during the regular season.

"I think those guys are excited about me being there and I'm sure they want me back," Goldson said. "They've expressed how much they want me back. I want to be back there. Like I said, if I'm not there, I'd be shocked."

Goldson has made strident statements in the past that turned out to be wrong. Last year, he bid goodbye to his 49ers' teammates and fans on twitter after he failed to work out a long-term deal. Then he signed a one-year deal.

Another one-year deal could be in the offing if a long-term agreement is not struck. The 49ers could put the franchise tag on Goldson at the relatively cheap price of $6.2 million. Reportedly, the 49ers offered Goldson a five-year, $25 million deal last season that Goldson rejected. That deal might have to be sweetened because of Goldson's Pro Bowl season in 2011.

Rogers' case might be slightly more complex. He was exposed slightly in the title game against Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who caught eight passes for 125 yards against Rogers in the first half. Rogers said he adjusted in the second half and held Cruz to two catches for 17 yards. Nevertheless, Rogers can struggle with exceedingly nimble receivers, something he doesn't face often in the NFC West.

The team might be more high on fellow starter Tarell Brown who has a year left on his deal. Rogers, however, has said several times that he wants to re-up with the 49ers, but the two sides might have widely different ideas on Rogers' worth.

Brooks is another interesting case. The team is about $30 million under the cap and since the horrendous cap management days of former general manager Terry Donahue, they like to stay under the limit. That could present a challenge in signing Brooks, with the team also wanting to re-sign Smith, Goldson, Rogers, guard Adam Snyder and several other restricted and lesser known free agents.

Brooks had a fantastic season. He rarely left the field, amassed seven sacks and 59 tackles. The richly talented linebacker can pass rush, drop into coverage and play the run. However, he can also report out of shape and is not as dedicated as the rest of the defensive front. The defensive line, in particular, are a very close group - they hang out and work out together in the Bay Area, where Brooks works out on his own. And because he doesn't keep himself in top condition, the team may be reluctant to extend him a long-term deal.

Lesser known and restricted free agents include special teams standout Blake Costanzo (linebacker) and C.J. Spillman (safety), cornerback Tramaine Brock and safety Reggie Smith. Costanzo is likely to sign around the league minimum, Spillman has a future as a safety and should get a tendered contract. The team is high on Brock and that's one reason why they might not pay top dollar to retain Rogers. Smith was only a part-time contributor and is not a special teams denizen. The team is also overloaded at safety.

Against the backdrop of all of these free agents is the team's ability to dabble in the free-agent market. Coach Jim Harbaugh said the first priority is to re-sign their own players, but the 49ers might be an attractive destination for other players looking for a team that came close within a fumbled punt of the Super Bowl.

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