COMMENTARY | Questions need to be answered for the San Francisco 49ers if they intend to return to the biggest stage in sports in 2014.
What will the receiving core look like next season? How will the 49ers improve their obvious weakness in the secondary?
The team's depletion at wide receiver for the second year in a row is a clear weakness for the team and a key reason for the 49ers' loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, as is the revelation that the San Francisco secondary has quite a few holes in it. Taking advantage of the holes in the secondary was an obvious priority for Baltimore, and it paid off in a major way.
Before shoring up the receiving core and porous secondary, the 49ers will have some house cleaning to do this offseason. Ensuring that the team brings back key players that will have a hand in the 49ers' run at the Super Bowl next season is a must, but letting go of players whose roles have depleted is also a key decision San Francisco will have to make this offseason.
1. What To Do With Dashon Goldson
The hard-hitting strong safety is likely to be coveted by several NFL teams if he hits the open market, but the 49ers have first say on whether or not he stays in San Francisco.
Goldson was given the $6.212 million franchise tag last season, and now the 49ers have just two weeks to decide whether or not they will give him the franchise tag for a second year in a row -- this time at $7.45 million.
According to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, San Francisco is not committed to giving the franchise tag to Goldson, which means either the team is working feverishly with Goldson on a long-term deal, or free agency is in his future. On the free agent market, Goldson is likely to get more money for more years than the 49ers are willing to pay.
2. Alex Smith: Trade or Release?
The Alex Smith offseason saga in San Francisco could get pretty ugly in the months to come, but one thing is for sure: the 49ers will do what is best for the team, and not what is best for Smith.
What is best for the team is to trade Smith. The 49ers would get the $8.5 million per year contract off the books, as well as presumably acquire key draft picks to add to their rather busy 2013 NFL Draft.
By April 1, the 49ers must get rid of Smith or pay him $7.5 million of the $8.5 million owed to him in 2013. Presumably, the team would like to get rid of him before that date -- via trade or release -- but there is the possibility that the 49ers would like to keep Smith as a high-paid backup to continue to guide Colin Kaepernick under center. Smith would also make for a very capable backup, as Kaepernick's "pistol" formation frequently leaves him susceptible to injury (as we saw with Robert Griffin III).
3. Free Agency/Draft Needs: Wide Receiver and Cornerback
Among the much-needed offseason additions and acquisitions the 49ers will be in search of, wide receivers and cornerbacks are a must. The team still does not have a reliable No. 1 cornerback, and the receiving core has been depleted for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons with only one or two reliable targets available.
San Francisco has a few options when it comes to the secondary. Darrelle Revis has been rumored to be on the outs in New York with the 49ers reportedly interested, and Charles Woodson was just released by the Green Bay Packers. Both would fit the mold of No. 1 cornerback for the 49ers if acquired, although Woodson has been through some recent injuries. He is expected to be highly coveted starting March 12, regardless.
At wide receiver, the 49ers return Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams, with Randy Moss and Ted Ginn, Jr. becoming unrestricted free agents. It is unknown whether or not Moss will return to San Francisco, but Ginn, Jr. is expected to move on, which leaves the 49ers in need of another solid wide receiver to prolong the growth of A.J. Jenkins even further.
Free agent wide receivers include Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, Danny Amendola and Brian Hartline.
There is also the option of adding talent in coverage or at receiver through the 2013 NFL Draft, although with the 31st overall pick the 49ers' likelihood of acquiring a player that could contribute on a team of this caliber is doubtful. There is always the option of trading up, as San Francisco has a very expendable 14 draft picks upcoming in the draft.
4. Who Will Be the 49ers' Kicker Next Season?
While David Akers never received a chance to show the millions at home watching the Super Bowl how bad his season had actually been, the 38-year-old's time in San Francisco is hanging by a thread. Akers has one year left on a deal that would pay him $3 million next season, but his odds of actually receiving that money are slim.
The 49ers will likely act in the same manner they did during the season, which was to bring in another kicker to challenge Akers for the spot. If Akers shows he simply does not have the confidence anymore, then San Francisco will be knocking on the door of Billy Cundiff once again.
Scott Semmler is a senior at San Jose State University fortunate enough to have covered nearly every Bay Area professional sports team, including the San Francisco Giants' 2012 World Series title. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSemmler22.
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