San Francisco's Offseason Following Super Bowl Defeat
While the Niners did get further in the postseason than last year's campaign (which ended in the NFC Championship game), ultimately this season was a failure.
Obviously, reaching the big game for the first time since 1995 is an accomplishment, but this team has Super Bowl or bust expectations.
San Francisco has generally been quiet in previous offseasons, preferring to build the team through the draft; however, the next few months will be interesting with the inevitable departure of Alex Smith.
After Smith, general manager Trent Baalke has decisions to make about several other key free agents, including Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson and starter Isaac Sopoaga.
However, Baalke must have a strong draft like 2011 rather than a repeat of last year that featured many reaches and luxury picks. Without many holes on the roster, the 49ers might look to finally make a big move.
The Alex Smith Situation
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The Alex Smith situation has been well covered all year, so there is no need to recap his season, however, he is back in the headlines as the 49ers will attempt to trade him.
Two teams set to pick in the top 10 of April's draft, the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 1 overall) and the Cleveland Browns (No. 6 overall), are speculated to show interest Smith. Other teams rumored to have interest are the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles.
San Francisco is hoping the market for Smith will be hot and they can get a big return in the form of draft picks. The only player that could be featured in a swap for Smith is the Jets' all-world cornerback Darrell Revis, who will also have an interesting offseason himself.
While some of the 49ers fans have begun to fantasize about blockbuster trade packages that fetch a top-five pick in the draft, it seems realistic to see a second rounder in this April's draft or a future first-rounder as a return.
Despite the current hype around Smith, it would also be realistic to see that the market is not so hot and Smith is released.
However this saga concludes, there will be controversy as some believe Smith deserves the Peyton Manning release and be granted his choice of team.
Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh have not been afraid to be controversial as Smith's demotion was the biggest hot-button issue of the season, and the team stood behind Colin Kaepernick.
The coming weeks should clear up Smith's future in the league.
49ers Free Agents (Offense)
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Following the outcome of the Alex Smith decision, there are several key free agents the 49ers must make decisions on.
Highlighted by key defenders Dashon Goldson, Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois, there are also multiple offensive and special teams contributors including Randy Moss, Delanie Walker and Ted Ginn with cloudy futures.
While Moss brought a vertical dimension to the game plan, Walker has much more value to this team.
Walker is practically a second starting tight end for Greg Roman's offense, and while he does not make the big plays like Vernon Davis, he has a ton of value as a blocker and even contributes on special teams. Walker could leave if his asking price is too high, however, he could come back cheap if there are no interested teams on the market.
As the No. 2 receiver, Randy Moss did contribute this season. Although he was not a vital part of the offense, his one-year deal was a bargain. However, he may be moving on as the team will be hesitant to offer a raise.
Ted Ginn has made plays as an impact return man for the 49ers. However, there will not be a roster spot for Ginn as LaMichael James took much of Ginn's role on special teams and his role on offense has been nonexistent.
49ers' Free Agents (Defense)
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The decisions on the free-agent defensive players may be harder.
Free safety Dashon Goldson has emerged with Pro Bowl bids the last two seasons and is a playmaker on defense, intercepting passes and laying big hits. After being hit with the franchise tag last offseason, Goldson has to be eying a big contract like Eric Weddle's.
Goldson has always been polarizing with fans because of his up and down play, but realistically, if he is not either re-signed or given the franchise tag, who are they going to get that is better? After Donte Whitner's performance in the Super Bowl, Goldson can not be replaced by a lower level safety.
Another starter, Sopoaga, is one of the longest tenured 49ers on the roster; however, the team may be moving on. A lot of that has to do with fellow free-agent Jean-Francois, who has been speculated as Sopoaga's replacement.
Jean-Francois appears to be a lock to be re-signed and is the frontrunner to be the starting nose tackle next season; however, a Sopoaga deal is not out of the question. The 49ers may be hesitant to offer a deal right away, but if the market is cold he may re-sign on a cheap one-year deal.
Although he rarely saw the field on defense, Larry Grant should be returning as Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman's primary backup while also contributing on special teams.
Other special teams contributors and defensive reserves Darcel McBath, Tavares Gooden and Clark Haggans may be re-signed to cheap deals.
The Free-Agent Market
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Given the many unknowns surrounding the San Francisco 49ers' free agents to be, it is not clear what the roster needs will be. Following the Super Bowl loss, GM Trent Baalke may look to make a splash.
Looking at the free agents from around the league, Jarius Byrd is a big name who could potentially fill a big hole. It seems unrealistic, but if the team loses Dashon Goldson the rumors could start.
Defensive linemen Randy Starks, Henry Melton and Desmond Bryant would all be a great addition to a stout defensive line. However, Starks is 29 and that may be a turnoff, and with a potentially high demand, Melton's asking price may be too rich.
The most intriguing of the three is Oakland Raiders' Bryant, who quietly had an impressive season on a rebuilding team. Although he is not a playmaker, Bryant would provide depth as Justin Smith's career will inevitably come to an end.
While Baalke may look to make a splash, with a strong defense, there is a chance any signing would be minor deals for depth.
2013 NFL Draft
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After an underwhelming performance last April, GM Trent Baalke must have a strong draft class as this team looks to bolster the roster to make another Super Bowl run. There will not be any luxury picks this draft.
Baalke's selections have been impossible to predict, and while taking risks has worked for the team in the past, it has also failed. It may be time for San Francisco to pull a big move in the draft.
The Alex Smith decision is a huge factor in the 49ers' draft plans because depending on what picks a potential trade brings back, San Francisco may look to trade up higher in the first round because there may not be room on the roster for multiple second and third rounders.
While the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns are supposedly interested in Smith, both teams have high picks in each round. The Chiefs could offer the the 34th overall pick for Smith as the Browns do not have a second-round selection.
Could the 49ers bundle some of these picks to move up? While it would be a dream come true, a package of picks landing a top-five selection in return is unlikely (just imagine Star Lotulelei on the defense), moving into the top 15 and grabbing a talent like Florida's Sharrif Floyd would be huge as Jim Tomsula would have a few years to groom a top prospect before replacing Justin Smith in the starting lineup.
If the 49ers are content at 31st overall, there are logical picks such as SMU's Margus Hunt or LSU's Eric Reid that could be available. Hunt projects as another potential Smith successor while Reid could be drafted if Dashon Goldson is not brought back, or if Baalke likes him as Donte Whitner's successor.
Baalke may end up drafting for depth and future starting jobs, however, the disappointing loss could be enough to get a deal done.
2013 NFL Draft, Part II
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After some of Baalke's recent surprise selections, it seems that predicting a somewhat random talent that could be another shock may be the best way to go, and my selection is Jordan Reed from Florida.
Please do not misunderstand: I do not consider Reed a first-round talent, but I thought it would be fun to see Baakle make a pick that could be seen as a reach (cough cough...AJ Jenkins). Reed could replace the impending free agent, Delanie Walker
There Is Work to Be Done
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An NFC Championship and Super Bowl bid sounds like a successful season, however, a year removed from defeat in the conference championship, the San Francisco 49ers continue to come up just short.
With a possible return coming for Alex Smith, San Francisco will have some valuable assets and could use these to make a splash. The team is not desperate for another star player, however, the 49ers could be one more difference maker away from winning it all.
Of course there may be no urgency to improve the talent and the focus could be solely on retaining the core players entering free agency, but there is no guaranteeing this team could get to the Super Bowl again.
Whatever happens, it will be an interesting offseason that could put the finishing touches on a team that has been close to champions the last two seasons.