10 Moves the San Francisco 49ers Must Make This Offseason
While the San Francisco 49ers are clearly focused on the remainder of the 2013 NFL season and the prospects for a return trip to the Super Bowl, the organization must also be looking further ahead into the offseason and address a number of key questions that shall arise.
The 49ers are not a perfect team. No NFL franchise is.
Yet teams must be able to strive for perfection and be able to put the best possible product out on the field each and every year.
Like every offseason, San Francisco must attempt to do this once more.
The 2013 season has revealed a lot for the 49ers franchise. Their offense—most notably the passing game—could use some work. 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman could also be on the hot seat following a lackluster season, per Vincent Frank of Yahoo! Sports.
There are also a number of free agents pending departure. Do the 49ers plan on re-signing these guys or do they look toward either the draft or free agency to fill the potential voids?
These questions, and more, lay at the heart of San Francisco's offseason prospectus.
As such, let us take a look at 10 moves the 49ers should make in the wake of the 2013 NFL season.
Add Depth to the Offensive Line
In 2012, the 49ers were lucky enough to have all five starters on the offensive line start each one of San Francisco's regular-season games.
That has not been the case in 2013.
Left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati have highlighted the 49ers' injuries on the offensive line this season.
Fortunately enough for San Francisco, backups Adam Snyder, Joe Looney and Daniel Kilgore have filled the voids when called upon.
In addition, the 49ers can eventually count on former Azusa Pacific lineman Luke Marquardt to add more depth along the line after spending his rookie season on the non-football injury (NFI) list.
Still, lack of depth and the attrition rate that offensive lines can endure can be detrimental to any football team. Thus, it would be wise to consider the addition of some more depth during the offseason.
San Francisco can approach this via a number of ways.
First, the 49ers could handle this through the draft.
Like 2013, the 49ers boast a plethora of picks for the 2014 draft—13 to be exact, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
It would not be surprising to see San Francisco spend a pick, or two, to bolster an offensive line that saw some damage done to it this season.
Another option is free agency. While this is probably more expensive of an option, having a NFL-proven backup is beneficial—look how the 49ers handled Snyder this year.
Speculating exactly whom the 49ers would pick up is hard at this point. San Francisco is not exactly looking to upgrade an already dominant line.
Regardless, bolstering an offensive line is never a bad idea. Considering how good the 49ers O-line is, one would hope they it never need the backup.
But if it did, the team would be glad it had players to fall back upon.
Replace Center Jonathan Goodwin
If there is one weak spot on the 49ers offensive line, it has to be on veteran center Jonathan Goodwin—if, of course, you want to call it a weakness.
Goodwin has produced another effective year in 2013 and is rounding out his three-year, $10.9 million contract with the 49ers.
Yet one cannot overlook the fact that Goodwin turned 35 this December, and it is reasonable to assume he is on the downside of his 12-year career.
Getting younger and cheaper is paramount for NFL teams. Look no further at how the 49ers elected to go with rookie long snapper Kevin McDermott over the veteran Brian Jennings earlier this season.
The same approach could spell the end for Goodwin's tenure in San Francisco.
Fortunately enough, the 49ers have a number of different ways they could approach this.
First, they could consider re-signing Goodwin for a short-term contract, somewhere in the likes of a one- or two-year deal.
The price would have to be right, but it would at least provide the 49ers with some time to decide which direction they would like to move.
They could look at players within their own depth chart. Perhaps San Francisco gives Joe Looney or Daniel Kilgore a chance to take over the starting reigns if they prove worthy enough.
The 49ers could also consider drafting a replacement center in 2014. According to CBS Sports' prospect rankings, there are a number of mid-round options here.
Lastly, they could always look to free agency. Yet, as described in the previous slide, this tends to be the more expensive option. Still, bona fide NFL linemen are good assets to have and the center position is no exception.
Regardless, the 49ers need to start considering their future at the position. San Francisco would like to retain the dominance its offensive line has enjoyed as of late, thus taking a look at a long-term center would be a good thing.
Let Anthony Dixon Walk
This hurts me a bit to consider.
As much as I love @Boobie24Dixon, it is time for the 49ers to part ways with Anthony Dixon.
In a way, this move is probably more for Dixon's sake than it would be for the 49ers. The guy deserves a chance to have a larger role somewhere in the NFL and it appears as if San Francisco has very little use for him.
It seems as if every year, Dixon is on the bubble to make the 53-man roster. Fortunately for him, he has done so each of his four seasons with San Francisco.
In 2010, Dixon was the most active—netting 70 rushing attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Since then, he has never crested above 100.
Dixon's value lies in his versatility, however. He is useful as a short-yard back, a lead blocker and even in the receiving game.
Yet the 49ers already have developed plenty of stock in these areas.
Frank Gore continues to be the primary running back and will probably retain that role in 2014. He is backed up by Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James and, assuming that tandem stays put, there will be relatively few carries for Dixon next season if he stays in San Francisco.
The 49ers can also count on rookie Marcus Lattimore making contributions next season.
Combine all that with the impressive role that fullback Bruce Miller has played this season, and Dixon's future with San Francisco looks grim.
A free agent in 2014, it is hard to think the 49ers will consider bringing him back. Even though he is an asset and a tremendous presence in the locker room, his utilization by San Francisco is shrinking.
It is hard to see him go, but it is something that needs to happen—for Dixon's sake if no other reason.
Look for Help in the Return Game
San Francisco's return game on special teams has not exactly been one of its fortes in 2013.
This season, the 49ers have primarily relied on two players to shoulder the burden of returns—Kyle Williams and LaMichael James.
Now Williams is gone and James has taken over that primary role.
As a punt returner, Williams was not exactly that effective—averaging only 5.1 yards per return as well as an astounding number of fair catches.
James has done a slightly better job, averaging 10.4 yards per return.
In this author's opinion, San Francisco should weigh its options regarding this element of its game. Kick returners who can get into open spaces and move the ball can wreak havoc on special teams coverage units.
In addition, this can help set up great field position for the offense.
This is nothing new or complicated. Yet this season, the 49ers have not exactly generated much buzz in this regard.
James could still wind up being a key returner in his still-young career, so let us not rule him out completely. Perhaps the remaining games of San Francisco's 2013 season shall give a better indication as to what the team plans to do in the future.
Still, it would be worth taking a look at this facet of the 49ers during the offseason. Perhaps a speedy and elusive collegiate receiver coming out of the draft—ideally someone who handled these duties in college—could fit the bill.
Part Ways with Mario Manningham
In 2012, wide receiver Mario Manningham was a significant factor in San Francisco's offense.
During the season, he netted 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown acting as a complement to No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree.
Manningham's knee injury in Week 15 that year set not only him back, but the 49ers offense back as well.
With Manningham fully recovered in 2013, the 49ers can at least enjoy a veteran presence in that No. 3 receiving position after Crabtree and Anquan Boldin.
So why should the team let him go after the season?
Manningham is wrapping up a two-year, $7.375 million contract and will be a free agent following this season. If the 49ers are looking to save some money this offseason for larger assets—to be described later—electing not to re-sign him could be an area where the team could do so.
There is another reason why San Francisco should choose this route.
Personally speaking, the 49ers should give rookie receiver Quinton Patton a much bigger look after injuries and limited action hampered his 2013 impact. He impressed well enough during the preseason and would add a full year under San Francisco's coaching to further his development.
The 49ers like his future, according to Bill Williamson of ESPN.com, and that should bode well for the team's prospective changes in 2014.
Owning an average yearly salary of $637,875 through 2016, he is also considerably cheaper than Manningham.
Patton deserves a chance. He should get it in 2014.
Settle the Cornerback Cluster
The 49ers' situation at cornerback is pretty confusing heading into 2014.
For starters, the team has to worry about its pending free agents. These include Tarell Brown and Eric Wright.
Before the 49ers can make any moves regarding these two players, they have to consider a few other aspects.
With Brock locked up, San Francisco can now examine its other players.
Carlos Rogers is in the midst of a four-year, $29.253 million deal that expires in 2016. According to David Fucillo of Niners Nation, San Francisco would likely renegotiate his deal or risk being released by the team.
That would save the 49ers some money that could be spent elsewhere. Considering some of the players the team needs to tend future contracts to, this makes sense.
One of those players is Brown. At 28 years old, Brown is playing at a high level in spite of an injury that has sidelined him four weeks of the 2013 season, per Mike Florio of NBC Sports.
Florio also notes that Brock's extension could spell the end of Brown's tenure in San Francisco, and Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area adds further credence to this by reporting that the two sides have not made any progress on a contract extension.
Adding the play of Wright to the mix further clouds the waters regarding what San Francisco will do this offseason.
In Brown's absence, San Francisco's secondary has played relatively well over the past four weeks, per Pro-Football-Reference.
Depending on his play, Wright could be the 49er who sees a contract extension and not Brown. Rogers may be asked to renegotiate his contract during the offseason. The team can also not forget that Chris Culliver should return after missing all of 2013 on injured reserve.
There is also rookie Darryl Morris, who has played in 10 games this season.
Expect Brown to walk and Rogers to either be released or renegotiate his contract. San Francisco may also decide to hold onto Wright pending his performance in the coming weeks.
After that, it is possible the 49ers make a move, or two, in the NFL draft to grab a top corner.
Replace Safety Donte Whitner
Parting ways with a Pro Bowl safety is usually not a good thing.
Yet the 49ers got away with it in 2013, electing to pass on re-signing Dashon Goldson and instead drafting rookie Eric Reid. The move has worked out to San Francisco's favor.
It should do the same in 2014 with Donte Whitner.
Whitner, a Pro Bowler in 2012, is set to become a free agent after his three-year, $11.75 million contract expires after this season.
It is safe to assume that Whitner is going to receive a lofty paycheck in 2014 somewhere. The only question is whether or not it will be with the 49ers.
Whitner has made it clear that he wants to stay in San Francisco. He stated via Eric Branch of SFGate.com on December 3:
I want to be here, but like every team they have whatever they’re going to do. They have their (salary) cap, they have guys that they want to be bring back. I don’t know. We have five regular-season games left, so we’ll see where it goes from there. I definitely want to be here. I think we have something special on this defense.
Branch writes that Whitner should receive a lucrative contract given his leadership, physicality and improved coverage skills.
The only question is whether or not San Francisco wants to pay the price.
Instead, the 49ers should bank on selecting another safety in the draft like they did with Reid in 2013. Backup safety Craig Dahl—who is signed through 2015—could also be asked to slide over to strong safety in a full-time role, or until a rookie prospect develops.
According to CBS Sports, there are not a lot of high-round strong safeties coming out in the 2014 draft class, so the 49ers will have to approach this situation very carefully.
Still, getting younger and cheaper is at the heart of every NFL team's offseason discussions.
Expect nothing different in this area.
Add a Deep-Threat Wide Receiver
Tight end Vernon Davis is the lone receiving threat that can work a deep route down the field.
San Francisco's other primary receivers—Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree—are not necessarily known as being deep threats, as argued by Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Both Boldin and Crabtree are better known for their physicality and tremendous hands. While they can create yards after the catch, they are not exactly prone to running the deep routes that offset defensive coverage.
We all know the story. Deep threats take the top off a defense, often pulling a safety back. This in turn allows for more one-on-one matchups in the intermediate game and within the seam. Both Boldin and Crabtree excel in catches within these areas.
Thanks to his speed, Davis is the lone deep threat San Francisco has. It could use some more in this regard.
Here is where the 49ers could look towards the draft to supplement this area of need.
Much of this is pending what San Francisco does with Boldin during the offseason—which is described in detail on the next slide.
Assuming the 49ers are able to keep him, both Boldin and Crabtree would continue to complement each other in 2014. A prospect receiver could fit the bill and would add another deep threat to the 49ers offense.
Thankfully, there are few collegiate receivers that San Francisco could spend a mid-round pick on to supplement this need.
Look for the 49ers to make a move in this area. Considering their difficulty in the passing game in 2013, a deep threat could be exactly what they need.
Re-Sign Wide Receiver Anquan Boldin
As far as contracts go, this might be one of the more difficult things the 49ers attempt to do this offseason.
There are few who would argue the 49ers need Anquan Boldin more than Boldin needs the 49ers.
In the 11 games San Francisco played without its No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree, Boldin was the lone threat at the position. Enough has already been stated about the lack of receiving depth that plagued the team this season.
During that stretch without Crabtree, Boldin was the guy. Passes either went to him or tight end Vernon Davis. If teams shut down both of those receivers, San Francisco's passing offense flopped.
Now that Crabtree is back, Boldin's value comes to fruition the way the 49ers intended it to when they traded for him before the season. Boldin takes pressure off Crabtree and Davis. He was, and still is, a physical and strong receiver with terrific hands.
The 49ers need that moving forward.
Finishing up the final year of his four-year, $25 million contract—$6 million of which he made in 2013—it would be nice to assume that Boldin would re-sign with the 49ers for another year or two at a discounted rate.
How much of that is fact versus fiction?
An element that favors the 49ers is the fact that Boldin is 33 years old and it is hard to fathom a lot of teams investing huge amounts of money into an aging free agent.
Yet Boldin has proven that he can still play at a high level. He is on pace to surpass his 921 receiving yards from a year ago when he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens. That will certainly draw attention in the free-agent period and during contract negotiations.
Fortunately enough, Boldin is open to an extension. He stated so via Eric Branch of SFGate.com back in March.
Still, the fact remains that San Francisco has very little regarding wide receiver options moving forward. Aside from Crabtree and Boldin, the 49ers are thin. They could still hope rookie Quinton Patton develops into something promising, but there are no guarantees as far as that is concerned.
As such, keeping Boldin on the roster has to be a top priority. His value to this team is far too important to overlook.
Replace Greg Roman
There was a time, not so long ago, when 49ers fans were worried whether or not offensive coordinator Greg Roman would depart San Francisco for a potential head coaching job elsewhere, as further described by Darin Gantt of NBC Sports back in January.
After watching the 49ers passing offense drop from 23rd in the NFL in 2012 to dead last in 2013, Roman looks as if his tenure in San Francisco is in jeopardy.
Sure, some of that blame could fall on less-than-expected developments with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The lack of wide receivers for much of the regular season also contributed to the problem.
Yet play-calling, perhaps above all other things, has to be at the root of the 49ers' offensive ineptitude.
There are those who feel Roman should bear the brunt of the blame for San Francisco's woes on offense. Perhaps he deserves it.
Yes, Roman can call a conservative game, as suggested by Al Sacco of Sportsoutwest.com. Yes, he probably is holding Kaepernick back. Sure, he should have made more in-game adjustments during some of the more lackluster 49ers games over the season.
Herein lies the problem with solely blaming Roman.
Fans need to realize that head coach Jim Harbaugh is much more involved with the offensive approach with the 49ers than he is on defense. After all, Harbaugh is the one relaying plays to Kaepernick under center.
There have been, at times, moments where the play-calling has gotten confusing, which in turn, has resulted in the 49ers taking a timeout. Perhaps this in an indication of Harbaugh getting too involved.
Yet Harbaugh has stated that this is Roman's offense, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
A more detailed explanation can be found from 49ers Webzone writer Jack Hammer, who argues that much of the vilification upon Roman is unjustified.
True, San Francisco's offense has ranked 11th in scoring in each of the first two seasons both Harbaugh and Roman have led the team. Thus far into 2013, San Francisco is ranked 11th once more.
Points for consistency I suppose.
The two problems that remain unexplained by Hammer, however, are that Roman is not particularly good at in-game adjustments, nor is his complex offense flexible enough to utilize the most out of San Francisco's weapons.
Dylan DeSimone of Bleacher Report describes these aspects here.
It is hard to predict what the 49ers will do this offseason regarding Roman. He is under contract through 2015 and changing a coordinator always carries serious implications.
Still, the 49ers have to consider making a switch.
San Francisco, while retaining its hold in the upper echelon of NFL teams, is far from a perfect franchise.
It has serious concerns and needs to make a number of critical moves this offseason. Be it adding depth, finding replacements for pending free agents or changing elements of their coaching staff, the 49ers will have their plates full of questions this offseason.
Those questions need to be answered.
Fortunately enough, the 49ers have shown their ability to produce high-quality teams over recent years. This bodes well looking forward and hopefully the franchise can put the same efforts forward before the 2014 season.
All we have to do is wait and see what transpires.
Feel as if I missed a move? Chime in on the comments section and speak your opinion!
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.