Ronnie Lott, who knows something about hard-hitting defensive backs, said the 49ers should wrap up free safety Dashon Goldson and hold on tight.
Goldson could become an unrestricted free agent after this season, a possibility that concerns the 49ers' Pro Football Hall of Famer.
"I'm surprised that he doesn't have a long-term contract," Lott told this newspaper. "He's an asset that you don't want to get away because he does everything the right way. He has all the intangibles you want on your team."
Goldson is playing on a one-year, $6.212 million franchise tag after failing to reach an agreement on a multiyear deal during the offseason. Now that possibility is on hold. NFL rules prohibit franchised players from signing extensions until after the season.
Goldson has said he won't let his contract status be a distraction this season -- and he's playing that way. As the 49ers (2-0) prepare to travel to Minnesota for Sunday's game against the Vikings, Goldson is still flashing the form he showed a year ago when he reached the Pro Bowl for the first time.
His emerging all-around play has caught the attention of Lott, 53, who played 10 seasons with the 49ers starting in 1981. The six-time All-Pro was a ferocious hitter who could cover the whole field and earned Pro Bowl invitations at three positions -- cornerback, free safety and strong safety.
Lott said he admires Goldson for the strides he has made since the 49ers took him out
"What I love about Goldson is this: He just plays the game. He's not patting himself on the back. He's not showboating. He just works," Lott said. "He's a great tackler and an exceptional ball-hawker."
When those comments were relayed to Goldson before practice Thursday, the defensive back smiled wide. He said he barely knows Lott -- they've met briefly -- so he was heartened to learn he has such an accomplished admirer.
"That's really amazing to hear from a guy like that," Goldson said. "Especially because I think he nailed it: I'm not out here trying to work on individual goals. I'm about the team.
"I've always been that way. When I was coming up, they always used to give me a hard time because I never liked publicity."
Against the Lions last Sunday, Goldson intercepted Matthew Stafford's deep pass intended for Titus Young and returned it 20 yards. Goldson also provided solid run-support against a Detroit offense that attempted 26 rushes.
Because of his range, Goldson sometimes lines up 12 to 14 yards off the line of scrimmage --and still swoops in to make the stop. Vic Fangio, the 49ers defensive coordinator, said his schemes require safeties to cover a lot of territory. He said it helps that Goldson also has a knack for anticipating when to come up on the line.
"He comes up there with the intent of making the tackle, not hoping somebody else will," Fangio said.
One subject he won't tackle, however, is his contract status. Goldson, 28, said his focus is on the field. General manager Trent Baalke also declined comment through a 49ers spokesman.
The two sides never came close to an agreement before training camp. Reports suggested Goldson wanted a deal similar to the $8 million average that the San Diego Chargers gave to Eric Weddle.
After this season, the 49ers could again slap the franchise tag on Goldson, this time for 120 percent of his 2012 salary. That would translate to a one-year, $7.45 million deal.
If the 49ers decide not to use the tag, the free safety would be eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Lott is crossing his fingers that -- this time -- the rangy free safety decides just to stay put.
"He's a very valuable asset who is doing everything possible to improve his game," Lott said. "He's always working on his craft.
"He's not working just to get a contract. To me, that's a sign of a very meticulous player who is serious about improving."