Well, it's officially the offseason for about 24 teams in the National Football League. More specifically, it's the most important offseason for the 49ers since 1993. If you are a die-hard 49er fan, you know what happened in 1993—the second consecutive defeat at the hands of those hated Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Title Game.
In that offseason, the 49ers picked up possibly the biggest FA during the offseason when they signed prototypical cornerback and star Deion "Prime Time/Neon" Sanders. With Sanders in the secondary, the 49ers were able to contain WR Michael Irwin and went on to win Super Bowl 29 vs. the San Diego Chargers, 49-26.
Why am I bringing up something that happened 15 years ago? No, I am not a Yankee fan or Celtic fan by saying "five for five." I am stating this because since that offseason, the 49ers haven't had this much pressure in the front office, coaching, and players to deal with.
Let me give you a synopsis on the 2008 49ers season.
They started out of the gate 2-1 after beating the Lions, which was a very, and I mean very, poorly contested game. The SAME Detroit Lions who went 0-16 this past season. They followed that hot start with four straight losses in which they either had the lead in the fourth quarter or had a chance to tie it.
First, at New Orleans, the outcome was 31-17, but more importantly, it was the first real game that QB J.T. O'Sullivan showed that he is no more but than a career backup. He threw TWO red zone picks in the game, and that was the difference.
Next up was a home game vs. New England, and they were up 14-7 after the first quarter only to lose 30-21.
Then came the biggest and possibly most disappointing loss in the Mike Nolan Era—a heartbreaking 40-26 loss that showed the ineptness and stubbornness of offensive "guru" Mike Martz, in which simply he did not run the ball enough in the fourth quarter to milk the clock.
49ers were AHEAD 26-17 at the start of the fourth quarter. Boom, two touchdowns and three field goals later by the Eagles, and you had a 40-26 loss. Finally (and mercifully), the 49ers fired their head coach of almost three-and-a-half years in Mike Nolan, if you can even call him a coach.
Who replaced him? None other than Chicago Bears legend and Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, who was the assistant head coach for Nolan. In his first game the 49ers were the team like the one that was playing under Nolan for three-and-a-half years and were blown out by Seattle (YES, SEATTLE!).
What followed was one of the most confusing and anguished moments of the season—a botched fourth and goal attempt on Monday Night Football versus the Arizona Cardinals in which Mike Martz DID NOT use Frank Gore in the backfield at the two-yard line. Instead he put him at wideout trying to "create a diversion."
After that the 49ers split their next two games against the Rams and Cowboys. Then, you could start to see the change in the team with an impressive 10-3 win at Buffalo in the cold weather, followed by a dominating victory against the then AFC East leading New York Jets and future Hall of Famer (possibly when he turns 50) Brett Favre.
The next week saw another narrow defeat to an upstart and amazing Miami Dolphins team who were 1-15 the year before and suddenly became America's Sweethearts.
A fourth quarter comeback victory against the Rams in which they trailed 16-3 with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter was another bright spot on the season. QB Shaun Hill (who was nearly benched for J.T. O'Sullivan at halftime) won the game with a TD pass to WR Josh Morgan.
The season finale was at home against the Washington Redskins. Many believed that if the 49ers beat the Redskins, Singletary would get the permanent head coaching job for 2009. In an emotional and gutty effort the 49ers won 27-24 on a last second game-winning field goal by PK Joe Nedney. Moments after the game, Singletary agreed to a four-year deal worth $10 million dollars.
Now here's my real reason I wrote this article. The 49ers have a no nonsense type of coach who will NOT tolerate losing, no intensity, and no effort. Singletary fired offensive coordinator Mike Martz (and rightfully so) and is now in the process of looking for the team's seventh offensive coordinator in the past seven seasons. This HAS to change if the 49ers are looking to be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
I recommend that Singletary look real hard at the QB coach for the Atlanta Falcons (another America's Sweetheart), Bill Musgrave. Musgrave brings an impressive résumé. He coached the offensive rookie of the year in the NFL, QB Matt Ryan. Many believe that Ryan is the best QB to come out as a rookie since Peyton Manning or Dan Marino.
Another reason to make him the O.C. is he was a FORMER 49ers backup quarterback to the most heralded QB combination in NFL history, Joe Montana and Steve Young. He has worked with Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren and the great Bill Walsh. He knows what the West Coast offense is about and what being a 49er is about.
Now moving on to the 2009 NFL Draft. There are glaring weaknesses at free safety, defensive end, offensive tackle, quarterback, and WR. Here are my proposed draft selections for next April.
1) Taylor Mays, free safety from USC
6'3", 235 who runs a 4.29. Hits like Polamalu and runs like a deer. With him playing center field, it allows Singletary to use more blitzes and pressure and let CB Nate Clements play man to man, which he is excellent at.
2) Alex Boone, OT from OSU
He has first round talent, but in a draft full of defensive needs for other teams, he's almost sure to drop to the second round. Boone would give the 49ers a real good-looking young offensive line with LT Joe Staley, LG David Baas, C Eric Heitmann, and RG Jonas Jennings. Everyone except Jennings is under 30 and is locked up for at least 3-4 years. A strong OL is a must for the franchise player, RB Frank Gore.
3) WR Brian Robiskie from OSU
He is a great route runner, has excellent hands, and is very quick. He would be the ideal possession WR for Singletary and Musgrave.
4) QB Cullen Harper from Clemson
49ers need an upgrade at QB with an all-time bust in Alex Smith going to be cut and journeyman O'Sullivan not coming back. Harper has first round talent and had a real bad senior season mainly due to his coaches' mistakes and not using Harper effectively. Hill can be the starter for 2009 and let Harper figure out what it takes to be in the NFL and then let him have the keys to the engine so to speak in 2010.
5) RB Devin Moore from Wyoming
He runs a 4.32 but is only 5'9" and 192 pounds. He is perfect as a complimentary back to the power running style of Frank Gore. This would be the new Thunder and Lightning in the NFC.
6) CB Wopamo Osaisai, Stanford
Like Moore, Osaisai runs a 4.39 and could be a great nickel corner. With Clements, CB Reggie Smith, and an upcoming Tarrell Brown locking down the first three cornerback spots, Osaisai would be a great fourth cornerback and depth at a position that is almost necessary due to teams using more passing attacks in the NFL.
7) Eric Kettani, Navy
The 49ers haven't had a real short yardage fullback since they let go of Fred Beasley after the 2004 season. With Kettani they get a reliable blocker who has 4.56 speed to get out in the open field and make some tacklers miss.
Now for the free agents that they need to sign.
DE Julius Peppers
A pass rusher at his caliber, and he wants an enormous contract. The 49ers have the cap due to letting go of Smith and a couple others. With him harassing QBs, it allows MLB Patrick Willis to be more range free.
CB Dunta Robinson
Teaming him up with Clements would be ideal for this defense.
WR Bobby Engram
Familiar with the NFC West and would ideally be a mentor to WRs Hill, Morgan, and Robiskie.
Here are your 2009 starters.
QB Shaun Hill
RB Frank Gore
FB Eric Kettani
WR Jason Hill
WR Bobby Engram
TE Vernon Davis
LT Joe Staley
LG David Baas
C Eric Heitmann
RG Chilo Rachal
RT Alex Boone
LE Julius Peppers
NT Kentwan Balmer
RE Justin Smith
LOLB Manny Lawson
ILB Takeo Spikes
ILB Patrick Willis
ROLB Parys Haralson
CB Nate Clements
CB Dunta Robinson
FS Taylor Mays
SS Michael Lewis
PK Joe Nedney
P Andy Lee
With that team in 2009, I have no DOUBT that they would go 10-6 (tough road schedule) and be an upcoming team with Singletary. Remember, it's the GREAT coaches who make their adjustments between Year One and Year Two. Let's hope that Singletary rediscovers the magic in the Bay Area.