The San Francisco 49ers are near the top of nearly every preseason power ranking you can find entering 2013, an expectation that matches the team's collective mentality: Super Bowl or bust.
After losing the NFC Championship two years ago and subsequently falling short last season in Super Bowl XLVII, the expectations surrounding this team are well-deserved. However, for several 49ers players, there's a lot to lose or gain in terms of personal standing on the roster moving forward.
A disappointing finish to the season could open the door for a changing of the guard in San Francisco, with several key players under pressure to step up. With both contract status and performance in mind, there are plenty of 49ers fighting for their future in Red and Gold.
Mostly considering expiring contracts, these five players have the most riding on their individual performances in 2013.
All contract information referenced in this article, unless otherwise noted, can be attributed to Spotrac.
After signing only a one-year deal for over $1.7 million this offseason, Nnamdi Asomugha might not be expected back in San Francisco at all going forward. But this could be a make-or-break season for Asomugha's career in the NFL.
After the Philadelphia Eagles released Asomugha, there was plenty of speculation into just how much left he still had in the tank. As ESPN's Dan Graziano noted, Asomugha was a decent corner for Philly, but not the elite one that the team expected and paid him to be.
So going into 2013, did the 32-year-old Asomugha decline that rapidly as a player, or was he simply misused on a poor overall defense? As the No. 3 corner on a top unit, here's the chance to prove he still has something left to give.
A good season could put him out of San Francisco's price range. However, there won't be any excuses if Asomugha fails to get it done in the Bay Area, and the rest of the NFL is surely on notice.
Jonathan Goodwin was speculated as a potential cut by CSN Bay Area in February, and The San Francisco Chronicle as recently as August 27. However, after Goodwin restructured his contract in May, he was spared and will enter his third season as the 49ers' starting center.
Pushed by Daniel Kilgore throughout training camp and the preseason, Goodwin is already 34 years old and the least secure member of the offensive line. An average season will probably spell the end for Goodwin, whose contract expires at the end of the year.
Kilgore is signed through 2015, which would give the 49ers a full season to evaluate him as the future at center. Goodwin's leadership will be missed along one of the league's best offensive lines, but it will take a great effort to earn another year in San Francisco.
With a contingency plan already in place, even that might not be enough.
Donte Whitner has earned a reputation as a hard-nosed run-stopper with big hitting potential, but his coverage has been suspect over his tenure. With an expiring contract after this season, the 49ers could be looking to replace yet another starting safety for 2014.
Based on a few late July tweets, Whitner clearly wants to stay in the Bay Area long term. He's also only 28 years old, which could help his value, but which Whitner would the 49ers be getting if they did decide to re-sign the former Pro Bowl safety?
According to NFL.com's Dan Hanzus, Whitner was ranked 53rd in ProFootballFocus.com's safety evaluation for 2012. Just a year before, he was ranked seventh, marking a monumental drop heading into his contract year.
If Whitner returns to form in 2013, keeping him could offer some stability to a very uncertain future in the secondary. For the right price, don't write him off just yet.
Prediction: Make, at the Right Price
Manningham isn't the only 49ers wideout facing a contract season. Truth be told, the contracts of wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Marlon Moore and Kyle Williams also expire after this year, but Manningham is the only member of that group starting the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Sitting on the sidelines isn't something Manningham can really afford after an fairly average first year in San Francisco. While Boldin and Williams make their cases for new deals, Manningham will be held out until Week 7 at the earliest.
With Quinton Patton emerging in the preseason and starter Michael Crabtree hopeful to return in late November, reps could be hard to come by for Manningham. Williams is being given a big chance as the No. 2 wide receiver out of the gate, and it's hard to imagine Boldin wanting to go to another team at this stage in his career.
Overall, expect San Francisco to retain Boldin and Williams if at all possible, but Manningham appears to be the odd man out in almost any scenario.
Carlos Rogers is the one player on this list who is signed beyond 2013, but he may be the least secure to remain on the roster. Even with fellow cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Perrish Cox set to hit free agency after this season, Rogers is in serious jeopardy given his price tag.
Rogers is signed through the 2015 season, as part of a four-year deal worth nearly $30 million. However, Rogers' Pro Bowl play in 2011 did not carry over into 2012, as seen in this breakdown per Kevin Lynch of The San Francisco Chronicle.
Brown has received a lot of hype this season, including from B/R's own Tyson Langland, and should be heavily pursued at 28 years old. Cox also impressed in the preseason and could make a run as a slot corner going forward.
Should the 49ers be unable to retain Brown, Rogers will increase his chances to stay with an impressive season. But at 32 years old, he would most likely still be asked to take a pay cut.
Either way, it's hard to imagine him returning for a fourth season in San Francisco.