San Francisco 49ers 2013 Offseason Preview
SI.com is laying out offseason road maps for all 32 teams as they start their journey for the Lombardi Trophy -- two teams per day, from the teams that need the most work to contend in 2013 to the ones that are in pretty good shape. See them all.
2012 Record: 11-4-1, lost to Ravens in the Super Bowl
Key Pending Free Agents: Dashon Goldson, S; Delanie Walker, TE; Randy Moss, WR; Ricky Jean-Francois, DT; Ted Ginn Jr., WR; Isaac Sopoaga, DT.
List of Draft Picks (pending compensatory picks): 1 (31), 2 (34), 2 (61), 3 (74), 3 (93), 4 (125), 5 (150), 5 (157), 6 (170), 6 (189), 7 (211), 7 (221)
Available Cap Space: Roughly $9.5 million
GM/Coaching Moves: None
The season likely will be remembered as much for coach Jim Harbaugh replacing veteran QB Alex Smith with second-year pro Colin Kaepernick in mid-November as it will for San Francisco coming up five yards short of winning its first Super Bowl in 18 years.
The change in signal-callers was a bold move considering Smith, one season removed from leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game, was the league's third-rated passer and had completed 25 of his last 27 attempts at the time.
When Kaepernick played so well in the six quarters Smith was sidelined with concussion symptoms, Harbaugh chose to stay with the dynamic youngster, whose strong arm and sprinter's mobility put tremendous stress on opposing defenses, and whose self-confidence prevented any stage from being too big for him.
Kaepernick led San Francisco to prime-time wins over the Bears when Chicago was hot, over New Orleans on the road when the Saints were rolling and over the Patriots in New England. He was even better in the postseason, rushing for a QB-record 181 yards and accounting for four touchdowns in a win over the Packers, then rallying the 49ers from a 17-0 deficit at Atlanta before nearly pulling off the comeback against the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
17. Number of rushes of 20 yards or longer, tying for second-most in the league.
The 49ers' ability to reel off big runs figures to increase next season, not only because they have one of the league's best lines, and a talented running back in Frank Gore, but also because Kaepernick will be starting for a full season. He has the ability to get around the edge on designed runs from the pistol formation, and he is a dangerous scrambler when his pass protection breaks down. If defenses devote a "spy" to Kaepernick, Gore and his running mates can hurt them because that means one fewer player they'll have to deal with.
8. Touchdowns allowed into the primary coverage of Donte Whitner. No safety gave up more.
Sometimes you have to give to get, which is the case with Whitner. He's not great in coverage, but he's smart, physical and gets everyone lined up in the right spots and on the same page, attributes that make him a valuable part of San Francisco's No. 2-ranked scoring defense. Still, the 49ers repeatedly were beaten for critical pass plays in the playoffs; and that issue could become magnified if Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson leaves in free agency.
1. Re-sign Goldson. The hard-hitting, rangy safety has become a core player for the 49ers, and losing him would be a significant blow to the defense. The 49ers reportedly are leaning toward not using the franchise tag (at $7.5 million) on him for the second straight year.
2. Add depth to the defensive line. Justin Smith will be 34 next season, and Ricky Jean-Francois and Isaac Sopoaga are free agents. The key to the Niners' stingy defense is the unselfish play of the line, which sacrifices personal stats to make the linebackers look good. Why fix what isn't broken?
3. Add playmakers at wideout. Kaepernick had a great rapport with Michael Crabtree, but the offense can still go to another level with more perimeter options. Mario Manningham will be returning from a season-ending knee injury, and the hope is that 2012 No. 1 pick A.J. Jenkins will step up after failing to catch a pass in any of the three games he appeared in.
That the 49ers are the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The team has everything: play-makers at the skill positions, an elite offensive line, the best linebacker corps in the league, and a coaching staff that does a great job of putting its players in positions to succeed. San Francisco has 12 draft picks (which should increase to 15 once compensatory selections are awarded), so it has the ammunition to make moves in the draft, especially after adding the 34th overall pick from the Chiefs in the Alex Smith trade. Bottom line: The 49ers are deep and talented and poised for another run at a title.