With a loaded roster and plenty of playoff and Super Bowl experience, what will it take for San Fran to get over the hump?
The 49ers have had some heartbreaking endings to their past 3 seasons.
2011: They were two muffed punts by former Niner Kyle Williams from reaching the big game.
2012: They reached the big stage in New Orleans. After a sluggish first half, they fell 5 yards short of an amazing comeback.
Finally in 2013: Behind the legs of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, they were in position to reach a second straight Super Bowl. But a couple of forced throws by the arm of Kaepernick sent them home packing.
The questions this offseason now need to be answered sharply, with this loaded roster and a bolster of draft picks (11 in all with a compensatory pick coming), and expiring contracts for Donte Whitner, Anquan Boldin, Tarrell Brown, Phil Dawson and center Jonathan Goodwin. Injuries to NaVorro Bowman and Mike Iupati will require offseason rehab, with Bowman rehabbing until the start of the 2014 regular season. It will be an active offseason for head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke this summer for sure.
The first move the niners need to make is bringing back Boldin. They basically got him for nothing, a sixth-round pick, and he ended up leading the team in receiving. He brings major toughness on the field and championship leadership in the locker room.
Secondly, they have to address the secondary. The pass defense ranked seventh in the NFL, allowing just 221 yards per game and forcing 18 interceptions, good for 10th in the NFL. Rookie safety Eric Reid helped Niners fans forget about All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson’s departure, finishing second on the team with four interceptions, one behind newly re-signed cornerback Tramaine Brock, who led the team with five. Tarrell Brown, Eric Wright, Donte Whitner and Perrish Cox are all free agents this season.
The defensive secondary needs to be addressed in the draft, maybe in the first round, and also in the free agent market.
Finally, the offense. The talent is there. The offensive line is intact, only center Jonathan Goodwin will be a free agent, and is likely to either re-sign or retire. The only question I have is will Kaepernick develop as more of a pocket passer? He is, in my opinion, the most dynamic talent at QB in the entire NFL. Right now though, Kaepernick is a one-read QB. Defenses know that when the Niners come out of the huddle, Kaepernick is looking for one read. If that receiver isn’t open, he’s gone.
Kaepernick’s work ethic this offseason toward becoming a better passer is key. His inability to threaten the defense with his arm really hurt the run game later in the season and the playoffs.
Defenses are stacking the box against the run, leaving no room for Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, or any of the running backs to break through. With a developed passing IQ, those defensive fronts will think twice about eight- or nine-men boxes, with the threat of Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Boldin.
The 2014 49ers have a lot to look forward to still, with a Super Bowl-caliber team, a talented coaching staff, and a front office dedicated to winning and their fans (not to mention a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium). How they answer the questions facing them this offseason though will determine how far this team goes.
The potential of a Super Bowl championship right at their fingertips.