Looking Ahead: Where to Improve in 2014

After a heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship, the San Francisco 49ers Quest for Six was put on hiatus. However, the 49er Faithful have a lot to look forward to next season, and that goes beyond the new stadium in Santa Clara.

Signing certain unrestricted free agents is critical. Anquan Boldin, Tarell Brown, Donte Whitner and Phil Dawson are must re-signs. This means the Niners will have to do some contract restructuring on the current roster, possibly with Frank Gore, Carlos Rogers and Patrick Willis. Here’s the full list.

While I would love to see Jonathan Goodwin and Anthony Dixon back in red and gold, it wouldn’t surprise me if their time in San Francisco was over. Goodwin is a very good center and key part of the 49ers near impenetrable offensive line, but he is getting up there in age at 35 and even contemplated retirement last season. Expect the 49ers to look to their bench, possibly to Daniel Kilgore, or free agency before opting to build through the draft to replace him. Dixon is a huge fan favorite and provides terrific energy, but the Niners have a lot of depth at running back, especially if Marcus Lattimore can come back healthy after suffering two near catastrophic knee injuries at the University of South Carolina. The only way I see Boobie returning is on a minimum deal to back up full back Bruce Miller.

Despite struggling at times, Colin Kaepernick will return at quarterback for the third season. In two years as a starter, he has a career record of 17-6, including 4-2 in the playoffs with two trips to the NFC title game. While there is still room for him to grow, specifically as a pocket passer, don’t be surprised if Kaepernick’s third year growth mirrors that of Cam Newton’s. Remember, he has fewer than two full seasons under his belt, and has been two drives away from a Super Bowl title and a return trip to the big game.

In order for Kap to succeed, the 49ers need to add another target to their aerial attack. Michael Crabtree and Boldin are excellent, but the Niners are missing that effective slot option at wide receiver. With another target to match with tight end Vernon Davis, defenses will have their hands full with Kaepernick’s speed and arm, and should improve on last season’s 30th ranked passing offense. The 49ers would be wise to focus on an established free agent to fill the need as they have failed to find one through the draft in recent years.

There is no questioning CK7’s position as top dog, but San Francisco’s lack of depth at the quarterback position makes potentially losing Kaepernick to injury a dangerous proposition. That said, it would benefit the 49ers to draft a quarterback. Colt McCoy is not a viable option, let alone backup, and the 49ers could use someone to develop behind Kap. It’s important to reiterate that this is not a selection to replace Kaepernick, but a depth addition that has become crucial in the new NFL where the quarterback-coach combination is essential, and hits to the legs and knees are the new norm.

It’s difficult to see how the Niners can improve what many consider to be the top defense in the NFL, but adding secondary help wouldn’t hurt. Safety-wise, San Francisco has a bright future with Eric Reid, and can hopefully re-sign intimidating hit man Donte Whitner. The cornerbacks are a different story. Chris Culliver is solid but missed all last season with a torn ACL, and with Brown’s future up in the air, the 49ers need corner help. Losing Navarro Bowman means this defense needs to be more physical. Adding depth to the outside would be a major boost.

While the San Francisco front seven is stout, they could use a tune up at the defensive tackle slot. Glenn Dorsey had a very nice season filling in for the injured Ian Williams, collecting 41 tackles and 2.0 sacks. However, the losses of Aubrayo Franklin and Isaac Sopoaga in recent years have left the 49ers without a solid nose tackle. Drafting someone and developing him at the position may be the right course, but if there are any solid free agent veterans looking for a title contender, don’t be shocked if the 49ers make a move.

The window is definitely still open in the Quest for Six. Making these changes are just a small start to chasing the next Lombardi trophy. Stay with 49ers360.com all off-season as we give you all of the late-breaking 49er news.

You can follow me on Twitter @mrandyparker




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