A brief recap of the 49ers' 2011 campaign will remind you that—for the first time in nearly a decade—there are few offseason alterations required to repeat success.
A 13-3 regular-season record in addition to an NFC West title have brought the 49er faithful back to life—and I'm overflowing with excitement as a result.
But if you sift through the enormous pile of awards and statistical achievements amassed by the franchise in 2011—you'll find one critical failure that absolutely must be addressed.
San Francisco converted on just 65-of-221 third-down situations in 2011, good for 29.4 percent and second-to-last in the NFL.
The only team that finished worse? The lowly St. Louis Rams.
The top-ranked team in this category—the New Orleans Saints—completed a mind-boggling 56.7 percent of its 208 attempts in 2011. And their main go-to guy in those situations?
Current free-agent, Marques Colston.
And as I've said before, Colston is the solution to San Francisco's well-documented need at wide receiver.
The 49ers' front office has been hard at work this week—retaining two important pieces of its dominant defense—and for good reason.
Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was locked up for six years without putting much strain on this year's salary cap, and San Fran just slapped the franchise tag on Dashon Goldson as well.
But now is the time to focus on the offense, and Colston is the best-possible fit at the No. 1 receiver slot moving forward.
The 6'4", 225-pound wideout has glue-covered mitts that are as reliable as they come. Colston racked up five 1,000-yard seasons in his six campaigns—and was on pace in '08 (760 yards) as well, until a broken thumb cost him five games of the season.
But Brees and the Saints are still miles apart on a deal of their own, and All-Pro guard Carl Nicks is a must-sign free agent for New Orleans as well. Of the Saints' top three free agents—Colston is likely the most expendable.
Jimmy Graham has emerged as the top tight end in the NFC—and Darren Sproles is an effective receiving threat out of the backfield. Not to mention receivers Lance Moore and Devery Henderson are still under contract for next season. So the Saints' gunslinger won't be deprived of options as Colston heads elsewhere.
Brees will undoubtedly garner the franchise tag if a deal isn't done soon—a potential move that would hurt the Saints' chances of retaining Colston even more. Robert Meachem is yet another free agent, and the the front office could save some cap space by letting go of Colston and giving Meachem his long-awaited shot at the No.1 spot.
With free agency less than two weeks away and two of their own free agents already locked up—the 49ers need to pursue Colston diligently.
There's been plenty of talk about the possibility of snatching restricted free-agent Mike Wallace from the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have some serious salary cap issues as well, and it's very possible Wallace could slip through the cracks this spring.
With that said, prying Wallace away comes at a serious cost. Anyone who signs him will have to cough up a first-round pick as compensation—in addition to paying the speedster $8-$9 million a year.
Sure, Wallace is an explosive playmaker, and his big-play abilities would be an asset to any team.
But if San Francisco wants speed on the outside—NFL draft prospects such as Rueben Randle (LSU) and Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech) will likely be waiting with that 30th overall first-round pick—instead of coughing it up for Wallace.
The question that must be asked is: which receiver is more likely to move the sticks when you're facing a 3rd-and-8? Marques Colston or Mike Wallace?
The answer is Colston.
Don't get me wrong—I love what Wallace brings to the table. But Alex Smith is not Ben Roethlisberger. Not in terms of arm strength, anyway. Wallace is most valuable on the outsides stretching the field—but that's not Smith's style.
Alex Smith is most accurate on short-to-mid-range passes, and Colston would assist him immensely in these crucial areas.
Something else to take note of: How many times have you heard Colston voice his opinion on his free-agent status this winter? Not once.
He emerged as a star in his rookie season and helped New Orleans rise to the top of the NFL. He's playoff-tested and even won a Super Bowl in '09. In other words, Colston has been there, done that.
Yet he remains exactly the opposite of a diva—and fortunately for San Francisco—is basically the least of New Orleans' worries. Colston will likely be searching for another proud franchise to call home—making the 49ers and the growing stability of its franchise—quite the cozy landing pad.
Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders put together an article listing the best fits for top free agents—and also believes Colston's most beneficial destination would be San Francisco.
Bringing in Colston via free agency—and adding either Hill or Randle in the draft—would be a dream come true for this 49er fan.
I can only hope Trent Baalke and Co. have a similar vision.
Follow me on Twitter: @B_Burnett49
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