Looking Forward- 12/08/2000
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After being eliminated from the playoffs last weekend, the 49ers season will now end in three games. With the end practically insight, many people, both within the organization and not are already looking forward to the next season, and what it will have in store for the 49ers. In all likelihood, the 49ers will be drafting between pick numbers five and ten. The team will have to come through with at least two really good players from this years draft in order to make up for the inevitable loss of some of their veterans.

With the salary cap, still a great concern the 49ers will have to force some of their older players to either take a hike or retire, and as usual, this wont be an easy task. Chris Dalman has already said he will retire, while the 49ers are hoping that Jerry Rice and Ken Norton will follow suit in order to ease the financial burden. The team wont likely be so lucky. Jerry Rice has already stated he wants to play again, and will look to play for another team if the 49ers canít keep him around. As for Ken Norton Jr. the aging linebacker who has played injured all season, the 49ers will likely head in another direction, a younger direction. Norton has been an incredible addition to the front seven ever since he came to the 49ers for the 1994 season. It will be a shame to see Norton, one of the toughest, classiest players left in the league leave the 49ers, but it seems inevitable.

The 49ers will be forced to make some other tough decisions too. It is very unlikely that the team will be able to keep both Charlie Garner and Garrison Hearst, in fact they may not be able to keep either of the thousand yard rushers. If the latter were the case, the team would turn to Paul Smith to take over the duties. The team will also need to resign quarterback Jeff Garcia, who will be come a free agent after this season, as will Scott Grag, an offensive tackle who has played well all season. All in all the 49ers will have to sign many free agents this off-season, and may have an even younger team taking the field next season, than this season.

The teamís draft priorities will likely start at defensive end. John Engelberger seems to be growing into the position, but the team has yet to find a consistent rush from the end position, and could really use someone who could fill this role. The 49ers will then need to look to the linebacking spot where they will likely see at least one departure. As can be expected the teamís primary focus will continue to be on defense, but an offensive tackle, and possibly another quarterback isnít out of the question. The 49ers will likely only carry three quarterbacks next season, so if they draft another one they will have plenty to choose from to back up Garcia.

Bill Walsh has a long off-season ahead of him, and it may be his last. Terry Donahueís name is rumored every year as an executive on the move. The 49ers will want to keep him around, at that may be at the expense of Bill Walsh. Look for Donahue to take over from Walsh right after this seasonís draft, Walsh however may see a reduced role as a consultant as the 49ers work their way back to the playoffs.

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