Breaking Down San Francisco 49ers' Biggest Offseason Needs
The San Francisco 49ers don't have many glaring needs, but they have several position groups that need to be upgraded or replenished with youth.
Among those position groups are wide receiver and cornerback.
What are the 49ers' other needs? Here are a few notes before we begin.
I'm expecting the 49ers to re-sign kicker Phil Dawson.
I considered putting running back on this list because Marcus Lattimore, who is the future of the position, is a major injury risk. However, with Frank Gore still going strong and Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James behind him, I think the 49ers will stick with what they have and reevaluate the position after the 2014 season.
Offensive line coach Tim Drevno will join the USC coaching staff after the 49ers' playoff run. Though filling that role is definitely a need, I don't think it is as important as the following ones.
Nose tackle/defensive tackle
The 49ers are in good shape on the defensive line. They drafted Tank Carradine in the 2013 NFL draft to eventually help replace 34-year-old Justin Smith. Once again, Ray McDonald is having a productive season.
But they could use a bit more depth on the interior of the defensive line.
The Glenn Dorsey nose tackle experiment worked well. He played in all 16 games and recorded 41 tackles and two sacks.
Dorsey is under contract for one more season. Now is the time to groom a replacement.
The 49ers might already have his successor under contract (Quinton Dial or Ian Williams could be that guy). They could draft another prospect in the middle rounds to add more competition to the position.
Colt McCoy is in a contract year. If the 49ers don't re-sign him, they could draft a quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds and/or sign another veteran.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has the Niners drafting Clemson's Tajh Boyd in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Offensive coordinator? Defensive line coach?
ESPN.com's Bill Williamson reported that Greg Roman and Jim Tomsula are drawing interest for head coaching gigs.
Tomsula, who has never been an NFL coordinator, has been San Francisco's defensive line coach since 2007. In the last five seasons, the 49ers have ranked in the top six in rushing yards allowed per game in each season. It's no surprise he's a hot commodity.
Roman came from Stanford with Jim Harbaugh. The 41-year-old has been the offensive coordinator since 2011.
Often criticized for his play-calling by 49ers fans, Roman has directed a ball-control offense that has finished in the top eight in rushing yards in his three seasons.
If either bolts, your guess is as good as mine on the replacement.
On Dec. 20, Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News reported that Jonathan Goodwin is contemplating retiring at the end of this season.
Even if Goodwin doesn't retire, the 35-year-old is in the final year of his contract. The 49ers could be looking to replace the veteran.
The Niners have been grooming 26-year-old Daniel Kilgore for a bigger role on the interior of the offensive line for the future. That being said, he's only played 86 snaps on the line this year (Goodwin has played 1,001 snaps).
The Niners could go one of three ways. They could re-sign Goodwin to a short deal. They could start Kilgore next year. Or they could sign a replacement via the draft or free agency.
Is LaMichael James the answer at the punt returner spot?
I have my doubts.
James is coming off a productive game against the Arizona Cardinals. His 41-yard kickoff return set up San Francisco's game-winning field goal. He returned three punts for 45 yards.
But then there's the muffed catch (that he recovered) against the St. Louis Rams in Week 13. And there's the fact that he only had 14 punt returns in his college career.
In fairness, James has been working on his punt-return craft this whole season. Still, he doesn't look as natural as most NFL punt returners.
The 49ers could look to draft for a receiver who has a lot of experience returning punts. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. comes to mind.
The Niners could also sign a veteran such as Jacoby Jones, who is also a very dangerous kickoff returner (as he showed in the Super Bowl last year).
If you've been reading my articles for a while, you'll know I'm not high on Donte Whitner.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), quarterbacks had a 128.5 passer rating when they threw at him in 2012. This year, that number is down to 66.8.
The 28-year-old has had a bounce-back season in his contract year. He'll never be Troy Polamalu in coverage, but he's almost always in the right place, and he's been known to land a big hit or two.
The question is, do the 49ers want to give him a multiyear deal when his age is likely to catch up with him quickly?
If they do, they should still consider drafting a strong safety in the middle rounds for depth. If they don't, Whitner will likely find a new home, which will make strong safety a top offseason priority.
The 49ers could court a free agent such as Jairus Byrd or Chris Clemons (assuming both aren't re-signed), but I suspect they'd draft one instead of going the expensive route of free agency.
Matt Miller has them taking Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon is the second round of the 2014 NFL draft.
If the 49ers don't re-sign Anquan Boldin, wide receiver becomes the team's top offseason priority. Even if they do, it's still a need.
Boldin, who had one year and $6 million left on his contract when the Niners traded for him in March, has been worth every penny and more this year. He finished the season with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns.
After Crabtree and Boldin, only Quinton Patton seems to have a future with the 49ers on the wide receiver depth chart.
My guess is the 49ers re-sign Boldin to a short, expensive deal. If they do that, they could still look to take a wide receiver they intend to start in the future in the first round.
Matt Miller has the 49ers selecting USC's Marqise Lee (if he declares for the draft) in Round 1. With Lee, the 49ers would have a potential No. 1 wide receiver if they don't re-sign Crabtree.
If the Niners use their first-round pick on another need, they could target a wide receiver with one of their two second-round picks (such as Fresno State's Davante Adams). Or they could sign a free-agent receiver, such as Green Bay's James Jones or Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin.
Uncertainly surrounds the future of San Francisco's cornerback corps.
We know Tramaine Brock, who signed a four-year extension in November, will be back next season.
I'm assuming the 49ers will cut Carlos Rogers due in large part to his bloated contract. According to Spotrac, cutting Rogers will result in nearly $3 million in dead money (it would have been $6.6 million in dead money had he been cut before this season).
Now is when things get more tricky.
Tarell Brown is in a contract year. When he missed three games this season, Brock took his snaps and the 49ers defense didn't miss a beat. Brown is expendable, but that doesn't mean he's not worth re-signing to a cheap deal.
Chris Culliver, who missed the 2013 season with a torn ACL, is under contract through the 2014 season. Are the 49ers expecting him to play a big role in 2014? He was mostly a positive contributor in the 2012 season.
Because the 49ers play so much nickel defense, they'll want to have at least three starting-caliber cornerbacks next season. Though they have several decent options internally, they still don't have a shutdown guy.
The 49ers aren't likely to spend the big bucks on a free agent such as Aqib Talib, Brent Grimes or Vontae Davis, because they'll want to save their cap space for Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith extensions (both players have a year left on their rookie contracts).
So, option No. 1 is to draft one early.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu would all be great first-round selections for the 49ers.
Matt Miller has the 49ers taking E.J. Gaines in Round 2 of his latest mock draft.