Draft is not 49ers’ only option to acquire safety help

The 49ers will get help for the defensive backfield in the upcoming draft. They might even get it in the first round. Look for them to focus on cornerback, though, and not safety.

This is not to say that safety help is not coming for the 49ers. If they do not get a safety during the draft, they could still make it happen with a high-profile pickup in June.

The 49ers have used a draft pick on a safety each of the past four seasons. They took Marcus Hudson, who signed with the Panthers this offseason, in the sixth round of 2006, and ultimately moved him to cornerback. Starter Dashon Goldson was chosen in the fourth round of 2007. Reggie Smith, who began his 49ers tenure at cornerback and was shifted to safety, was a third-round 2008 selection. Last year, the 49ers selected Curtis Taylor in the seventh round.

During the 49ers’ organized team activities, it was obvious that the 49ers’ coaching staff is challenging Smith and Taylor. They want to see if either can handle the assignment in case they’re needed to step in.

Veteran Mark Roman remains unsigned, and somebody has to take his spot as the first safety off the sideline on third-down situations.

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In the first round of the draft, the 49ers could very well end up with Florida cornerback Joe Haden with the 13th pick. If he is not there, the 49ers could satisfy their desire to select a defensive back at No. 17.

Earl Thomas of Texas would be a logical pick because he has cornerback skills and could transition to safety, if needed. It does not make much sense for the 49ers to select a safety, such as Taylor Mays, who has limited cover skills.

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Even if the 49ers do not bring in a true safety during the draft, they could still acquire an immediate starter in June.

Rams safety Oshiomogho (O.J.) Atogwe, whom 49ers coach Mike Singletary knows quite well, is a restricted free agent. The Rams made him a lowball offer of $1.226 million just to retain the “right of first refusal.” That represents a paycut of nearly $5 million over what he made in 2009 as the Rams’ franchise player.

Teams have until Thursday to sign restricted free agents to offer sheets. But Atogwe’s case is different. If St. Louis does not sign Atogwe to a contract, trade his rights or give him a one-year, guaranteed contract of about $7 million, they lose all rights to him on June 1.

Atogwe would become an unrestricted free agent and able to sign any contract with any team without that club owing the Rams anything in compensation. That remains an option for the 49ers.

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