San Francisco has a great deal of talent; younger and older, on the field and off the field, so players and personnel can be expected to exit the organization for a number of different reasons.
“Your team isn’t always stacked forever. You know, with free agency, the way the draft is set up, if you have successful seasons, you get the lower end of the draft. You have certain windows…I know with some of the guys that we have and with free agency and things like that, that we’re not going to be able to keep this team together forever…. I’m kind of stressing, you know, let’s go about this in a way that we’re kind of focused – we’re not building, let’s do it this year and see what happens next year.”
Like Smith said, the window is getting smaller, and it looks like his preseason prediction may be coming to fruition. In an attempt to upgrade their organization, 31 other teams will be after San Francisco’s staff and players.
Their ability to bring in players, coach them up and see them perform on game day to the level they do, it speaks volumes about the organization as a whole.
And for the people that have a hand in it, San Francisco has proven to be an opportunistic place to be. In the past two regular seasons, the 49ers have gone 24-7-1 under Jim Harbaugh. And even though they share the division with the highly competitive Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers have won back-to-back NFC West championships.
In 2011 and 2012, they secured home-field advantage and a first-round bye in the postseason. With their loaded roster, whiz front office and coaching staff, San Francisco should become a common poaching ground in the coming years.
And it could begin in 2013.
Coaching Staff & Front Office
When Harbaugh came to San Francisco, he brought with him an almost entirely new coaching staff. In his first NFL head coaching gig, Harbaugh hand-selected a group of men to help lead his team. Of the new faces, many of them were coaches he had worked with in the past or knew personally.
When they first arrived in 2011, the Niners consistently finished at the bottom and needed a lot of work. Outside of the coordinators Harbaugh brought with him from Stanford, the Niners head coach brought in excellent position coaches as well.
Now, San Francisco may be in danger of losing essential pieces of their coaching staff:
San Francisco’s special teams coordinator is one of the best in NFL history. Seely has an extensive background with 22 years of coaching experience at the pro level. Before the 49ers, Seely was working with Phil Dawson, Joshua Cribbs and the Browns special teams unit.
Prior to his stint with Cleveland, Seely spent 1999-2008 with the New England Patriots, where he was a part of three championship teams. And in three years in Carolina, he even helped the Panthers see an NFC title game.
Under Seely’s direction in 2011, the 49ers special teams unit emerged as one of the best in the NFL. K David Akers set the NFL single-season record for most field goals (44) and points with no touchdowns (166). P Andy Lee set the NFL record with a 44.0 net punting average, while the 49ers led the NFL in average starting field position (33.5-yd. line) and opponents average starting field position (24.3-yd. line). Seely was named Special Teams Coach of the Year by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, whose special teams rankings are widely regarded.
The 49ers would really hate to lose Tomsula, who has served as the team’s energetic defensive line coach. He has been with the 49ers for six years, spending the entirety of his NFL coaching career in the Bay Area. His presence was an impactful one, as he turned San Francisco’s defensive front into the fiercest in pro football.
Tomsula is a great defensive mind, having left his mark on NFL Europa. He won a league championship as a defensive coordinator for the Berlin Thunder, a team that coincidentally finished first against the run.
His profile in the NFL has been ascending, and there has been talk of him potentially leaving for a promotion elsewhere. The Jaguars and Jets were teams that have been linked to Tomsula, either as a head coach or defensive coordinator.
Since Tomsula’s arrival, the 49ers run defense and pass rush have steadily improved. During his five seasons with the team, the defense has allowed a mere 3.64 yards per carry, to rank second in the NFL during that span. In terms of yards per carry allowed, San Francisco’s defense ranked 5th (3.8) in 2007, 8th (3.8) in 2008, 3rd (3.6) in 2009, 2nd (3.5) in 2010 and 1st (3.5) in 2011, a notable improvement from ranking 16th (4.1) in 2006 prior to Tomsula’s arrival.
When names like Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner and Jimmy Raye couldn’t get the job done, Greg Roman could. San Francisco went through a bundle of offensive coordinators over the past decade...almost one every year in fact.
In his second year as OC, Roman’s unit finished ranked 10th in total offense, after consistently finishing in the mid-20’s prior to his arrival. The team has been more efficient and fluid under his command.
He is one of a select few offensive coordinators seriously on the radar for head-coaching positions this year. Greg Roman has been linked to the Eagles, Browns and Jaguars, who are rumored to have strong interest in the 49ers OC.
Under Roman’s direction in 2011, the 49ers notched a 13-3 record as the offense ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in points per game (23.8 - tied for 10th), rushing yards per game (127.8 - 8th) and time of possession (32:04 - 4th). Additionally, the offense committed just 10 turnovers (5 fumbles, 5 interceptions), which ranks tied for first in NFL history for the fewest turnovers in a season, also setting a franchise record.
Other names the team would hate to lose would be defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell. These two have been instrumental to San Francisco’s success on defense, and principally, the night-and-day turnaround on the back end.
After being solid against the run, the 49ers have finally become a total defense. The defensive system, coaching and proper technique have made all the difference. The little intangible nuances that make these coaches unique have also aided in the unit’s resurrection.
The front office has also received quite a bit of praise, with their ability to evaluate, place a value to and acquire talent. 49ers Director of Player Personnel, Tom Gamble, is a hot commodity this offseason. The Browns, Jets and Jaguars have all set their sights on Gamble, making him a top priority.
He has spent the past eight seasons with the 49ers, and is the No. 2 man behind GM Trent Baalke. Gamble is taking meetings and will likely accept a general manager position with one of the three aforementioned suitors.
Free Agent Players
Dashon Goldson, 28, received the team’s franchise tag prior to the 2012 season, and will once again be a free agent. Of San Francisco’s players, Goldson will be the most sought after. If the Niners cannot afford to extend him, they could apply the franchise tag on him once again.
However, they would still need to clear the cap space to be able to pay him a pricy 2013 salary. If Goldson is allowed to walk, he will be the No. 1 defensive player available on the free agent market.
Potential Landing Spots: DAL, IND, CIN, WAS, MIA, CLE
Delanie Walker, 28, has been hot and cold for the 49ers during his career, but would likely be remembered as a solid player once he’s moved on. With his contract being up, Walker has a chance to shop his services around after this season.
Which player or staff member do you not want to see go?
Also, the Niners may want to upgrade at the position, and let Walker have his opportunity to start elsewhere. This is a move that could work out well for both sides, especially the team that nabs him.
Potential Landing Spots: CHI, NYJ, GB, TEN
Isaac Sopoaga, 31, has been the rock in the middle of the 49ers defensive line. He’s played the nose after moving from the end position two years ago. He’s brought continuity, as well as size and power to the 49ers front.
Sopoaga does not have a ton of mileage and could be good for one more contract. There are a number of teams out there that could upgrade their defensive line with him. If the 49ers do not extend him, Sopoaga should be able to pick where he wants to go next year.
Potential Landing Spots: NYJ, JAX, CHI
Alex Smith, 28, will still be under contract, but the expectation is that the 49ers will look to trade or release him before April 1. The market for QBs is small, but lucky for Smith, he was able to build his stock over the past season and a half.
Smith still finished the 2012 season with one of the league’s top passer ratings. He’s proved to be efficient and smart with the football. There are a number of teams that will look to acquire him from San Francisco.
Potential Landing Spots: NYJ, KC
Parys Haralson, 28, was sort of forgotten after his season-ending injury that took place in the preseason. San Francisco moved forward with Aldon Smith at the starting right outside linebacker position as planned. Though, only a year earlier, Haralson was starting for San Francisco’s top-ranked defense.
Aldon Smith wasn’t but a situational player at the time. Haralson received the majority of the snaps and was a very solid component up front for the 49ers. Not yet 30 years of age, Haralson could still find a contract to start on another team.
Potential Landing Spots: NYJ, NO, PHI
This should continue to happen as long as they’re winning. But considering where the 49ers were before the Harbaugh era, it's more of a blessing than a curse.