The San Francisco 49ers placed the franchise tag on safety Dashon Goldson following the 2011 season, which ended with Goldson in his first Pro Bowl. Like most players, Goldson could see two sides to that maneuver by his team – they clearly valued his contributions highly and wanted to pay him well, but the tag severely limited his opportunities.
Goldson eventually signed the tag and went on to have an even better season – earning All-Pro honors as well as another Pro Bowl berth, and helping San Francisco to the Super Bowl – and then headed into another uncertain offseason. This time, the 49ers declined to employ a second straight franchise tag, and Goldson was free to explore his options.
He did just that, and in methodical fashion.
"I did some research, sitting down with my agent and trying to figure out my correct fit, because of my style of play and my mindset," said Goldson. "And Tampa came onto my radar. I was able to see a couple of their games and their style of play and I think I fit well in their scheme. It's a good opportunity, and this team is definitely up and coming. It's a young football team and I like to consider myself a seasoned vet and I think I can bring a lot to this team with leadership and my presence in the backfield with the rest of the secondary."
Considered by many to be the top available safety on the market, Goldson definitely had options. As usual, the team that would get the first visit had a big advantage, and the Bucs were eager to be that team. As General Manager Mark Dominik revealed on Wednesday, the Buccaneers had coveted Goldson for some time, even looking into the possibility of a trade a year ago. Fortunately, they were able to convince Goldson that the perfect fit he sought was available in Tampa. As Goldson said, he came to Tampa with a good feeling about the match already, but further conversations with Head Coach Greg Schiano and several members of his staff gave him the rest of the evidence he needed.
"I think there are great things to come here in Tampa Bay," said Goldson. "I got a chance to sit down with a couple members of the staff yesterday and talk football and get to know these guys and have them get to know me. Greg does a great job. I like his energy. It reminds me of a couple of coaches I've had growing up and I think we're going to mesh well together."
In a very real way, the addition of Goldson is the defensive complement of last year's recruitment of wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Jackson came across the country from California (the San Diego Chargers, to be exact) after roughly a half-dozen very strong years in an effective system. Jackson not only gave the Buccaneers incredible production in his first year with the team, but he was an instant leader in the clubhouse, in large part due to his unceasing work ethic. Goldson strikes the Buccaneers as the exact same type of player.
"He understands exactly, as a head coach, what I'm looking for," said Schiano. "He's going to come in here and be a leader and be a guy that understands what it takes to be a championship football team. That's what we're going to do. Every step we take is to get us closer to winning a Super Bowl. That's the only goal and he's locked in on it."
Goldson has the ninth-most interceptions in the NFL over the past two seasons, but he is perhaps better known as a hard hitter in the secondary. That's quite similar to the profile that fellow Buc safety Mark Barron took into the draft last year. Schiano said the Bucs are quite pleased to have two fearsome tacklers at the back end of the defense, and that's another reason Goldson is a perfect fit.
"I'd like to think that's our personality," said the coach. "When you're number-one in the league, you're getting after people and you're hitting them. That's who we want to be. That's who the Buccaneers have been when we've been great on defense and that's who we're going to get back to being. And Dashon's going to help us get there. When you heard Dashon say he loves football – you've heard me say that over and over again. We're looking for guys not who like it but who love it. And he loves it."
Dominik has engineered some very big free agency deals in the last 13 months, including Goldson, Jackson and Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks. The Bucs are never going to be a team that tries to build its core through free agency, but these specific moves have been of a different variety.
"We had planned and hoped for the opportunity to pursue Dashon Goldson," said Dominik. "It was a rare and unique opportunity, and those have been very successful for us in the past."