The San Francisco 49ers season has been over for a few days now. Looking back on the season it was successful, they reached the final four and are the second best team in the NFC. However, that doesn’t mean they are satisfied with it because they are in Super Bowl or bust mode. Based on that lofty goal they are 0-3 under Jim Harbaugh and are 0-2 with Colin Kaepernick as quarterback. They have come up short three straight seasons. Moving forward this loss leaves some questions.
The most obvious question that some fans and media people have is whether or not Harbaugh and Kaepernick are winners. True, their records are really good as far as wins and losses; especially Harbaugh who’s on pace for a historic regular season win percentage. But, winning in the regular season is one thing, winning the Super Bowl is another. These Niners haven’t done that yet, so the question remains, can Harbaugh and Kaepernick win a Super Bowl?
A lot of this depends on Kaepernick’s ability to improve as a pocket passer. All season he’s been better throwing from outside the pocket than inside the pocket. He’s faced a lot of criticism about this. It’s accurate, he needs to get better in order for the Niners to take the next step. He does deserve credit as he kept the Niners in the NFC championship game with his first half scrambles and a few sharp throws. However, the fourth quarter of that game showed that he still has a ways to go.
Can he get there? Yes, absolutely he can. He has the best raw skill set out of any quarterback in the NFL including Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, to name two. He has a cannon arm, is athletic, and can makes plays out of nothing. If he learns how to be a consistent pocket passer, improve his accuracy from inside the pocket and learn to better diagnose defenses he will be a deadly quarterback. He has a great coach with Harbaugh helping him out so he’s in good hands.
There’s more than just coach and quarterback. The Niners have some contract issues that they need to address; in particular, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and strong safety Donte Whitner to name a couple. The Niners obviously want to resign both those guys, but it will all depend upon the price tags that both those guys are asking for. The Niners showed a willingness last year to let their best defensive back Dashon Goldson leave without paying him an outrageous contract. That could be the case with Whitner if his price tag is too high.
Boldin should be the top priority to be signed because of the season he had. The Niners also could consider giving Kaepernick an extension this offseason, even though waiting until next year would be a smarter idea, to see if he improves into someone who deserves the money he will be asking for.
General Manager Trent Baalke will need to find a way to keep all the key guys as well as be able continue to draft quality players in order to ensure the Niners remain one of the top NFC teams. This is important because windows can close very quickly if a team loses talent as good as the Niners. His track record is very good and if the Niners lose Boldin or any other key cog on the Niners team he’ll probably just draft to replace them since the Niners have lots of draft picks this year.
A couple things that became alarming was how inconsistent the Niners running game with Frank Gore was this season. The offensive line couldn’t create holes for Gore consistently enough this season, but on the flip side Gore who’s now 31 doesn’t have the explosive that he once did to explode through the holes that might be there.
This is where Marcus Lattimore comes into play. Harbaugh said that all the players that didn’t play this year will compete for spots next season. If Lattimore fully recovers from his injury he will have a good opportunity to compete with Gore for the starting running back spot.
Another thing that the Niners refuse to address is their secondary issues. Their secondary is successful because of how good defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is at moving the defensive backs around like chess pieces to confuse quarterbacks. Fangio is doing that because there’s nobody in the Niners secondary that can shut down opposing receivers a la Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson or Darrelle Revis. The secondary also benefits from how good the Niners front seven is at getting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. If the Niners can add a shut down corner either in the draft or free agency that will make their defense that much better.
Regardless of the result of the game and that the Niners weren’t able to complete their goal of a super bowl, their future remains bright. They will return mostly the same talent that they had this year and should start the season completely healthy. Then hopefully earn the top seed in the NFC this time. Which could make Seattle or some other team go through Santa Clara to get to the Super Bowl.