For the third straight season, the San Francisco 49ers have suffered a gut wrenching loss to end their championship hopes. In 2011, it was Kyle Williams and his fumbles that kept the team from advancing to the Super Bowl. 2012 may have been the hardest to take when they had three shots from the Baltimore Raven’s five yard line to win it all and could not punch the ball in. While it wasn’t a last minute Super Bowl loss, 2013 would also hurt as San Francisco dropped it’s second NFC Championship in three years on a Colin Kaepernick interception in the endzone with under a minute to play. Despite the disappointments, the window has not yet closed for the 49ers, however, they have some important decisions to make this offseason.
There are a number of key veteran players who either have their contract’s expiring or have salary cap hits that may not be feasible to maintain. The first and possibly most important free agent will be wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin led the team in targets (129) receptions (85) and receiving yards (1179) this season. He only had one year remaining on his contract when the 49ers acquired him from the Ravens and it’s unlikely he’d take a pay cut from the $6 million he made in 2013. He could be the team’s top priority and is likely to return if he will accept a short term deal. The same can be said for kicker Phil Dawson who was outstanding in 2013, going 32-of-36 in field goal attempts. He could be another player who may easily return on a one-year contract.
The other notable free agents are not as cut and dry. The 49ers gave cornerback Tramaine Brock a new deal during the season which means Tarell Brown‘s chances of returning are slim. Brown will probably receive a lot of attention from other teams and the 49ers will not try and outbid anyone for his services with Brock already locked up. San Francisco may also lose it’s starting safety as Donte Whitner is set to hit the market. Whiter, who can sometimes be a liability in coverage, had one of the best seasons of his career. The issue with him is he could be a dying breed in today’s NFL. Whitner is an old school, hard hitting safety. His style of play is now frowned upon in a league that is trying to make the game safer. Whitner had five personal fouls this season and was also flagged for one in the NFC Championship. The team may look in another direction at strong safety for a player to who can tandem with the up and coming Eric Reid.
The offensive line may also lose a key component as center Jonathan Goodwin could be replaced by a younger, cheaper alternative. The 35 year old has started every game for the 49ers since joining the team in 2011. Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney are possible in house replacements for him.
In addition to the free agents, there are also some veterans whose cap figures may cause the team to make some tough decisions. First and foremost on that list is cornerback Carlos Rogers. Rogers has seen his play slip since his outstanding 2011 campaign and has often been the target of opposing offenses. There is no way the 49ers will pay him the $8 million dollars he’s owed for 2014 and odds are that Rogers will not be with the team at all next season.
The other veteran with a large contract could be a little more of a sensitive subject. 49er legend Frank Gore will be 31 years old and has a base salary of $3.5 million that balloons to $6.5 million with roster and workout bonuses. The team could approach Gore about taking a pay cut in order to help with the cap. Gore played well for much of 2013 and was still the focal point of the offense but the team does have a slew of runningbacks with Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore all on the roster.
As the 49ers make decisions on all of these players, they also have to take into account possible contract extensions for Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Aldon Smith, and Mike Iupati. All of four of those players will see their contracts expire after the 2014 season.
Stay tuned. It’s going to be a very interesting offseason in San Francisco.
Photo: Getty images
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