The San Francisco 49ers lost Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 34-31, with Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin leading the way. It will be of little consolation to the 49ers players right now, but the reality is that they controlled much of their own fate and lost the game more than the Ravens won it. Even though that could initially make them feel worse, it is a good thing in the long run.
Sports are always uncontrollable in some way. The most successful teams are the ones who can control more of their fate than those they compete with. For the 49ers, they control their fate moving forward.
With Colin Kaepernick instilled as the team’s starter, the 49ers have already answered the biggest question that every franchise has entering the off-season: do we have a quarterback we can win with? Not only can the 49ers win with Kaepernick, he has proven at different times this season that he can win games for them. In fact, leading an offense to score 31 points in your first Super Bowl appearance after just nine career starts is an incredibly promising achievement. With Kaepernick still playing on his rookie deal, and Alex Smith now expendable, the 49ers are also in the enviable position of having a star quarterback for the price of a backup. That allows them to spread the rest of their cap space on greater talent than other teams.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the 49ers will return every single starter on their offensive line, all of their talented and relatively young running-backs, as well as key playmakers Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. The 49ers need only replace Delanie Walker if he leaves in free agency, while they should easily be able to upgrade the second starting receiver position with Randy Moss set to depart. Last year’s first-round pick, AJ Jenkins, is already on the roster and waiting for more playing time, while Mario Manningham could still return to the team after tearing his ACL this year. Kyle Williams offers another option off of injured reserve, but the 49ers have the flexibility to add a star receiver in free agency or the draft.
Finding receivers is nowhere near as tough as finding a quarterback or creating a dominant offensive line. For that reason, the 49ers are in a very enviable position. They already have a high-powered offense with Moss barely being a threat. If they add a capable starting receiver, then they could completely blow open defenses with their arsenal.
Defensively, Isaac Sopoaga is a free agent along with Ricky Jean-Francois on the defensive line. Both are quality players, but neither are irreplaceable and the team’s two most important players in the trenches are Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. Only backup linebackers are coming free, while Dashon Goldson is hitting free agency at a time when the 49ers may prefer to replace him either way. The secondary was ultimately what prevented the 49ers from winning the Super Bowl, and while they won’t look to completely revamp the unit, they will have plenty of opportunities to upgrade as they should have plenty of cap space for very few needs after a few expected personnel moves are made.
The 49ers’ position is so comfortable that every avenue is available to them to try and improve. Reloading with better free agents and focusing on long-term beneficiaries in the draft is possible, but they also have the flexibility to make headlines with multiple trades. They could trade up to try and land one or two game-changing talents to push them over the edge in the draft, or they could potentially be in play for Darrelle Revis.
Couple all that with the continued development of young players such as LaMichael James, Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, AJ Jenkins, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, and the 49ers’ future is brighter than anyone’s.
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