Not too long ago the San Francisco 49ers were considered the summit upon which every other team in the National Football League attempted to reach. In reality, they were the best of the best.
A lot of you are probably too young to remember this era in 49ers history. It was a time when Eddie DeBartolo and Carmen Policy ran things the right way. They didn't outshine other teams in terms of making the sexy pick, signing the biggest free agents or spending a lot of money.
Instead, San Francisco took a business as usual approach. They worked under the radar to build the best team with the best players in the best possible manner. The core of those teams were built through the draft, but they didn't stray away from free agency either.
The 1994 Super Bowl team is a perfect example of this. While players such as Ricky Watters and Jerry Rice represented the home-grown faction of the roster, others stepped in through free agency and made them championship caliber. Individuals like Deion Sanders and Ken Norton were instrumental in their dominance that season.
In fact, it could be concluded that the NFL salary cap era began after the 49ers signed some of the best veteran free agents on the market the previous offseason.
Things then started to fall apart in San Francisco. They got in a horrible salary cap situation, didn't draft all too well and made some horrible coaching hires. In short, their front office was a complete disaster.
This kept on being the overriding theme up until the 2011 season.
The promotion of Trent Baalke to general manager was the best decision that this franchise had made in over a decade. While fans were not happy with this decision, it have proven to be the right hire. Baalke made his first order of business to bring in a head coach that would change the culture in Santa Clara.
This is when he turned to Jim Harbaugh, the rest is pretty much history.
Now the 49ers have become a team that others attempt to model their franchise like. They have a tremendous structure in place, don't rely on one specific player for success and are in the process of building a long-term championship contender.
In doing so, players like Peyton Manning want to come to play for the up-and-coming franchise. Imagine us saying that the future Hall of Fame quarterback needs the 49ers more than they need him less than a calendar year ago. That statement probably would have cost me my job here at Bleacher Report as my credibility would have been tarnished to no end.
In reality, that is the situation the 49ers find themselves in right now. They are Manning's best chance at contending for the Super Bowl in 2012 and beyond.
What San Francisco built here was maniacal in its philosophy. They didn't publicly woo Manning, instead it appears that he reached out to them. They didn't throw their current quarterback under the bus or lay all their eggs in one basket.
Instead, the 49ers acted the part of champions in pursuit of the future Hall of Fame quarterback and they came out looking like kings going up against servants. No matter how the Manning situation plays out, San Francisco proved themselves to be back in the game in terms of elite franchises.
As fans of this organization you should be happy that they are no longer considered a backup plan for some of the best players in the league. Instead, they are a team that most players on the open market want to go to.
It must feel good to think that the Miami Dolphins are the backup plan for Alex Smith and the 49ers might actually be the destination for one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game.