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NFL San Francisco 49ers

Do the San Francisco 49ers View Craig Dahl As a Potential Starter at Free Safety?

Craig Dahl San Francisco 49ers

Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers made their third free agent signing of the offseason Saturday, inking 27-year-old safety Craig Dahl to a three-year contract. Dahl entered the league in 2007 as an undrafted free agent and has started 40 games in his five-year career, including all 16 in 2012 with the St. Louis Rams.

Clearly, Dahl is at the very least a serviceable starter in this league, but is he a worthy replacement for Dashon Goldson, the two-time Pro Bowl FS who left SF to sign a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this week?

One does have to respect the ability of the veteran safety to enter the league as a nobody and quickly work his way into a starting gig. You simply don’t accomplish something like that without a top-notch work ethic and ability to learn the nuances of your respective position in a hurry. Having played the past four seasons in the NFC West, Dahl’s experience within the division provides an extra bonus. On top of that, he’s no stranger to special teams and can help there, too.

But it’s no secret that going from Goldson to Dahl at the free safety position would serve as a clear downgrade for the Niners. He may not be guaranteed the starting spot out of camp, but until a more capable competitor enters the picture, he seems like the most suitable option currently on board. C.J. Spillman was Goldson’s backup, but he lacks the skill set to contribute anywhere other than special teams, where he’s actually quite valuable.

The signing of Dahl after showing interest in more tenured and proven options like Charles Woodson and Ed Reed shows that Trent Baalke and Co. are likely to draft a safety in the early rounds of this year’s NFL draft. Equipped with 14 selections, there’s even a possibility San Fran may slide up into the middle of the first round to grab a prospect capable of contributing immediately.

The only potential issue with that is, outside of University of Texas product Kenny Vaccaro, there isn’t necessarily a first round-caliber safety in this class. Matt Elam, Eric Reid and John Cyprien are all enticing options, but not exactly sure-shot solutions. At least not right out of the gate.

So, while it’s good to see the Niners are adding depth to the safety position (and we know they’ve done their homework), Dahl hasn’t shown in the past he can hold up in coverage and is more of a run-stopping safety than anything.

Obviously, the ideal situation is having a player who excels in both areas, but they are extremely difficult to find. Given the options available to them this year, it appears the 49ers may be heading into the 2013 season with a void in their otherwise All-Pro-caliber defense.

Brandon Burnett is a San Francisco 49ers writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @B_Burnett49er, or add him to your network on Google.