49ers Paradise will continue to be updated all off-season, and believe me we have lots in store! The podcasts will continue as will the regular updates to the rest of the site including the Hot Off The Press section. Of course I am also working on scheduling some draft chats which were a tremendous success last off-season. A new feature to look forward to will be a 49ers book review report that will review at least three football books you will be interested in reading. Naturally there will be plenty of 49ers news to follow as Mike Nolan continues to build the front office and team itself. Plenty to look forward to, so be sure to tune in every day this off-season, and who knows, maybe the 49ers will even announce stadium plans.
The 49ers finished off the 2005-2006 season by doubling their win total from the previous season. Of course, with only 4 wins, that is not exactly something to brag about. Neither is a drop in draft position by as much as five positions. Nevertheless the momentum and confidence the 49ers built through their final two games and two wins is essential to building for the future. As the 49ers move into the off-season there will undoubtedly be changes to the roster, the coaching staff, and even the front office. The question is who will stay, and who will go?
There is no doubt that the 49ers are comfortable with their starting quarterback, Alex Smith. Smith needs to work on not turning the ball over, but seems to have shown that he can be the future quarterback of the team. He is raw, and still highly unproven, but he will hold onto his position for at least one more season, maybe two more, before the 49ers will be able to definitely know what they do or do not have in the young quarterback. It would not be surprising though if the 49ers look for an established veteran to back up Smith and help mentor him as well. Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett may develop into adequate backups, but in the mean time the 49ers need to be thinking on getting Smith to the top of his game as fast as possible.
At running back Frank Gore and Maurice Hicks turned quite a few heads this season. Their performance could put Kevan Barlow and Fred Beasley’s positions in jeopardy. Terry Jackson continues to be a key role player for this team, and I believe it would be unlikely for Chris Hetherington to return next season. If the 49ers bring back Tom Rathman to coach the running backs that could shake up the position further.
The team needs depth at offensive line. The team also needs to find a tight end that can be a real starter for the team, particularly in light of Eric Johnson’s injury history. Kwame Harris will likely see his starting role eliminated next season. Harris has been a disappointment since joining the team, and would be lucky to hold onto a job with the team. Despite spending several draft picks on the offensive line and tight end positions in recent year the 49ers have plenty of work to do in these areas.
Defensively the 49ers could see a makeover at all four defensive tiers. On the line the 49ers will be looking for a future replacement for Bryant Young. When Young went down due to injury this season the 49ers pass rush completely disappeared. The 49ers have invested heavily on the defensive line in recent years but have been unable to find a player that can fill in adequately or compliment Young. Although every 49ers fan wants to see Young continue to play, he likely is not that far from retirement and the team thus needs to protect itself.
At linebacker the 49ers have already reached contract extensions with Jeff Ulrbich and Corey Smith. The team will do everything it can to resign Derek Smith who had a tremendous year. Julian Peterson continues to show how amazing an athlete he is, and as the 49ers defensive staff learn to use him better, Peterson will become an even better player for the team. The trick will be signing Peterson to a fair deal to avoid the exclusive franchise tag once again. Andre Carter had his best season since joining the club as he shifted to linebacker from defensive end. If the team does not re-sign Peterson, they may more actively pursue an extension to Carter.
At cornerback and safety the 49ers are really reaching for depth. Mike Adams had a very strong season with the team, and teamed with Tony Parrish could make a solid duo in the defensive backfield. Ben Emmanuel may be the answer at back up safety especially considering the experience he picked up this year. The 49ers corners were devastated by injury this season. The team still needs to solidify the position even if Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph are able to return to their respective positions. Matching up against the NFC West receivers the 49ers can use all the help at corner they could possibly get. A big job this off-season will be making the right moves in the defensive backfield.
Mike Nolan may make some coaching changes this off-season, including brining Tom Rathman back to the 49ers coaching staff. He may also have to replace Mike Singeltary and Mike McCarty on the coaching staff. Nolan did a good job assembling the staff last off-season but with more NFL coaching vacancies to be filled this season it may be harder to get quality coaches. Nolan has also expressed interest in adding a veteran to the front office staff, but may have resistance from owner John York who is a strong proponent of Paraag Marathe, a wiz with numbers but with very little football experience.
Mike Nolan did a pretty good job this season. He doubled the win total, improved discipline on the team, improved third down conversions, reduced penalties, among other improvements. Nolan was not flawless though, and had his share of rookie mistakes. This off-season Nolan should do lots of inner review, and also contact the likes of Bill Walsh to try and improve himself for next season.
The 49ers stadium will also be a subject to watch this off-season. John York continues to disappoint fans, the team, and citizens of San Francisco with his lack of a plan for the new stadium. York needs to step up and get something concrete together that will initiate a new stadium for the 49ers, to help return the team to its former glory.