With the new coaching regime taking over, it's safe to say there will be turnover at various key positions. The coaching staff hinted at an aggressive free agency by blatantly ignoring key positions like cornerback and defensive tackle in the draft.
It's unclear at this point who is on their way out and who the coaches are putting on trial runs. Some may not survive ahead of the 2011 season, while others are going to be given a last chance at obtaining a long term roster spot.
Let's take a look at five guys who are entering make-or-break seasons.
Josh Morgan is a fan favorite in San Fran. He came in as a sixth-round pick, dominated the preseason, earned a roster spot, and overachieved his way into the starting lineup. He's coachable, reliable and he runs great routes.
He's everything you would ever want in a receiver, but he's nothing more than a slightly above-average NO. 2 receiver. Morgan commands no attention and has been on the verge of a breakout season for his entire career.
He gets better every year, despite playing in less-than-stellar offenses. Even so, the 49ers still haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens back in 2003. If Morgan fails to show promise next season, Jim Harbaugh could be looking for a replacement.
Morgan isn't a true X or Z. He does nothing to complement Michael Crabtree, which could be problematic.
Dashon Goldson is an intimidating force to have in the middle of the field. With Patrick Willis lurking in the heart of the defense and Goldson floating around center field, going across the middle of the field isn't an ideal task to be given (just ask Brad Smith).
Goldson—AKA Hawk—is a heat-seeking missile. He has problems in coverage at times because he overpursues. He also isn't a sure tackler, because he fails to wrap up most of the time. He's a heavy hitter, though, and during the 2009 season, he seemed to be on the verge of a breakout year.
In 2010, Goldson, like Aubrayo Franklin, took a huge step backwards. The 49ers do a great job rewarding players who perform with huge deals. Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley can attest to that.
If Goldson wants the same sort of pay day, he's going to have to be more consistent in 2011.
Michael Crabtree could be the most polarizing 49er on the team's roster. He had it all coming out of college and the 49ers were elated to see him drop to them with the 10th-overall pick.
Crabtree's 741 yards were 44th in the league last season. The 49ers brought him in to continue being the touchdown machine and playmaker he was in college. The two-time Biletnikoff Award winner still has a lot to prove in the NFL.
Crabtree is entering his third season. It's time for him to start playing like the top-flight receiver the 49ers expected him to be when they brought him in.
The writing is on the wall for Manny Lawson. The 49ers drafted Aldon Smith with their first-round draft pick. He's in a contract year and will probably be the starter on opening day, but his days are probably numbered in San Fran.
Even so, there are going to be plenty of teams interested in Lawson. He's not a sack artist, but he's stout against the run and can hold his own in coverage. Everything about him screams 4-3 outside linebacker, which could be an option for him.
He could also play opposite Smith, but he's going to have to prove to the coaching staff that he is a true three-down linebacker. If he performs up to his potential, Bowman, Lawson, Willis and Smith could make up a dangerous linebacker corp in the future.
I feel like this is deja vu all over again. Alex Smith is entering his fourth or so make-or-break season. This is Smith's seventh year. Every single season, he has a reason that he failed. First it was the offensive line, so the 49ers drafted three first-round offensive linemen.
They surrounded him with a safety net tight end, a top 10 wide-receiver pick and have now brought in an offensive genius to tie everything together.
Throughout Smith's career, he's had to handle a ton of adversity. If he can't put that behind him and perform in Harbaugh's offense, it's time to move on. Colin Kaepernick is going to be right on his heels heading into next training camp.
A great 2011 showing might make Smith's critics change their tune. At the moment, he is the whipping boy and the face of the 49ers recent struggles. He needs 2011 to be a success more so than anyone else on the roster.
Smith bears the No. 11. It could be an omen, or something of that nature.