The 49ers haven't been to the playoffs since 2002. It has seemed as though every season in the past few years has been the year the 49ers would turn around their misfortune.
In 2010, the NFC West produced the first playoff team with a losing record in NFL history. It isn't going to take a dominant performance to allow the 49ers to make a playoff push. Simply posting a winning record will probably be enough to put them in the playoff picture.
Jim Harbaugh is undergoing his first NFL offseason. As long as the CBA is renewed in a timely manner, all offseason activity will take place as usual. Let's take a look at how the 49ers should attack this offseason.
Aubrayo Franklin was a dominant defensive tackle in 2009. Franklin didn't have spectacular numbers, but he commanded the line of scrimmage and, aside from Patrick Willis, it is safe to say he was the best player on the entire defense.
Franklin wasn't happy about getting a franchise tag slapped on him last offseason. The 49ers have been extremely generous in providing lucrative contract extensions to players who produce consistently. Franklin had a breakout year at age 29. Seemingly, the 49ers franchised him to see if he could produce at a high level for more than just one season.
Franklin suffered a major setback last season. Statistics don't show how large his regression actually was. His inconsistent play was one reason the 49ers suffered a setback as a whole.
The 49ers have the option to franchise Franklin again, as long as the tag survives this offseason. An underachieving, disgruntled defensive tackle who makes over $7 million a year is not worth his trouble.
Nate Clements is one of the most physical corners in the league. He is great in run coverage and has never been afraid to put it all on the line and make the tackle, but Clements is highly overpaid and struggles covering even average NFL talent.
The 49ers are expected to ask Clements to restructure his current deal. The 49ers should present an incredibly low number. Unless Clements can provide his services at a bargain rate, he is a liability to the 49ers secondary.
A change of scenery could be exactly what Clements needs. It would also free up cap room and allow the 49ers to move on.
This one is going to irk a lot of 49er fans. Alex Smith has been a lightning rod of criticism for his entire six-year career. As the No. 1 pick overall, he has been a liability and the face of the struggles the franchise has seen since he arrived.
Mike Singletary went into last season with only one viable option at quarterback. After an 0-5 start, the 49ers realized that not having a Plan B would prove costly. Smith has game-time experience and could serve as an outstanding option as a backup quarterback.
Bringing in a free-agent quarterback or trading for a veteran is obviously a smart move, but it leaves the 49ers placing all their eggs in one basket once again. Smith could excel under the supervision of Harbaugh, but the 49ers are not in a position to hand over the keys to the franchise once more.
The 49ers have had one of the worst quarterback situations in the league for the majority of the past decade. Alex Smith was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft in order to be the quarterback to lead the 49ers back to the Super Bowl.
Smith never panned out. 2005 presented a fairly weak draft class as a whole. Critics can look back and say the 49ers should have gone with Aaron Rodgers, but who knows how Rodgers' career would have turned out had he been taken with the first pick?
The 49ers can't afford to settle on another quarterback. This year presents one of the worst crops of quarterbacks in recent memory. No quarterback justifies being taken as the No. 7 pick. In the meantime, the 49ers can bring in Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb or Kyle Orton to be a temporary field general.
Kolb will have a particularly high asking price, so they may want to go with one of the other options. The 49ers don't need a quarterback of the future this offseason. They need an experienced quarterback who won't be a liability to fill in until the right prospect comes along.
Nnamdi Asomugha is an elite lock-down corner. It is rare that a talent like Asomugha enters free agency. Asomugha is going to attract many suitors, including the Oakland Raiders. The more teams involved, the more the asking price is driven up.
The 49ers have a glaring need at cornerback. San Francisco would probably be particularly appealing to Asomugha, considering he is already located in the Bay Area. The 49ers know the risks that run with offering a monster contract to the most sought-after cornerback in free agency, as Nate Clements never lived up to expectations.
That being said, Asomugha is a much safer pickup and would give the 49ers the ability to shut down the best receivers in the league.
There is a chance that LSU's Patrick Peterson will fall to the 49ers at No. 7. He brings size and physicality with the ability to cover just about anyone. Peterson is one of the most talented players in the entire draft.
The 49ers were lucky enough to see Michael Crabtree fall to the No. 10 pick overall. A similar situation could happen with Peterson.
If Peterson is not available, chances are Nebraska's Prince Amukamara will be. Amukamara has incredible speed and excellent cover corner skills. Amukamara could develop into an incredible corner, given his combination of size, speed and athleticism.
Even if the 49ers are able to obtain Nnamdi Asomugha, they should still seriously consider bringing in an elite corner through the draft. They could potentially have the best cornerback tandem in the league. The 49ers should jump at the opportunity, should it present itself.
The 49ers will likely bring in a veteran quarterback to fill the void until they have the potential to bring in a franchise quarterback for Harbaugh to groom. There are a few intriguing quarterbacks in this year's draft who could develop into a starter in the future.
One such prospect is Colin Kaepernick out of Nevada. The 49ers will likely have an opportunity to draft him in the mid-rounds. Aside from Cam Newton, Kaepernick could be the best dual-threat quarterback in this class. He has a skill set that Harbaugh could fall in love with and could develop into something special under his close supervision.
Other options include Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett and Christian Ponder. There is a chance all of them could fall to the 49ers in the second and third rounds. The 49ers won't have the investment of a first-round pick in one of these players, but the potential to be a starter will remain.
Sione Fua played under Vic Fangio and Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Fua knows the Fangio defense. He was instrumental in the improvement of the Cardinal run defense and has the potential to bring the same sort of production to the 49ers.
Fua is a hard worker and is in the good graces of the coaching staff. At 6'2", 307 pounds, Fua has the build to be the man in the middle for the 49er defense. He and Ricky Jean-Francois could rotate and fill the Aubrayo Franklin void without seeing a big setback.
The 49ers are in need of an anchor if Franklin is released. Fua might be available late and could provide defensive line depth immediately.
The 49ers have a number of outside linebackers who all contributed something unique to the defense; however, none of them were an every-down linebacker. Ahmad Brooks and Travis LaBoy could get to the quarterback, Manny Lawson can set the edge, and Parys Haralson...suffered a minor setback this season.
In a 3-4, it is imperative that the outside linebackers have the ability to come off the edge and get to the quarterback. The 49ers haven't found a guy who can hold his own in coverage, be stout in run coverage, and attack the quarterback.
This is an extremely top-heavy draft class for outside linebackers. If the 49ers choose to bypass the outside linebackers in the first round, they will see a serious drop-off in talent when they are on the clock again in the second round.
There are a few prospects who are going to be available late that have intriguing value. Thomas Keiser out of Stanford has ideal size at 6'5". He has 15 career sacks in 25 games and is familiar with the coaching staff. Other prospects with upside at the back end of the draft are Wayne Daniels and Craig Stevens.
Jim Harbaugh is already studying tapes of Bill Walsh, breaking down the intricacies of the West Coast offense, according to Pro Football Talk. He says he plans on running a modified version of the offense, news which is elating to 49er fans.
The 49ers appear to have the talent on offense to be competitive, but have struggled mightily. The additions of Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman should bring an immediate improvement to overall offensive production.
The new offense is expected to play to the strengths of the players already on the roster. Frank Gore in particular could enjoy a monster season. He will need to stay healthy, but his ability to catch out of the backfield makes him an ideal fit.
The late Walsh had a relationship with Harbaugh dating back to his Stanford days. Harbaugh doesn't need to be Walsh, but he couldn't pick a better man to try and emulate.
Chilo Rachal has regressed every season he has been in the NFL. The 49ers have three linemen and a tight end drafted in the first round. They have become heavily invested in the offensive line and cannot afford to have a liability in the starting lineup.
Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati are still developing. The time for developing has come and gone for Rachal. David Baas struggled with his snapping at times during the season, but did considerably well filling in for the injured Eric Heitmann.
Baas can play any position on the interior line. With Heitmann re-entering the lineup, it frees up Baas to slide over to guard. With Iupati and Davis getting a full year of experience under their belts, Joe Staley and Heitmann coming back from injury, and Baas taking over for Rachal, the 49ers will see immediate improvement up front in 2011.
Taylor Mays is one of the biggest enigmas in the entire league. He has unparalleled athleticism and the ability to deliver ferocious hits, but some still question his ability to play football.
Mays struggles in pass coverage and can be a liability at times. He and Dashon Gholdson are both hard-hitting, but leave something to be desired when helping in coverage.
Vic Fangio should be able to take advantage of the amazing size and speed Mays presents. Mays is incredibly hard-working and a willing student of the game. No one is expecting Mays to be Troy Polamalu just yet, but with the ability to play a glorified linebacker position and cover ground like he does, it is difficult to believe the 49ers won't find a place for Mays next season.
Mays is under the wing of Ronnie Lott. It will be nice to see Harbaugh come in with a new coaching staff and a fresh pair of eyes to assess Mays. He is far too talented to be nothing more than a special teams hero.