5 Mistakes the San Francisco 49ers Can't Afford to Make This Offseason

Dan MoriCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2014

5 Mistakes the San Francisco 49ers Can't Afford to Make This Offseason

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    Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke with Eric Reid the 49ers' 2013  first-round draft pick.
    Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke with Eric Reid the 49ers' 2013 first-round draft pick.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers' dream of a sixth world championship was dashed by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC title game.

    This is the third consecutive year under head coach Jim Harbaugh that the 49ers have suffered another tough postseason loss so close to their goal of a Super Bowl victory.

    The good news is that he and the 49ers are so close and well-positioned to make another run at it next year.

    Unfortunately, the bad news is that several of the top stars are a lot closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.

    Frank Gore, Joe Staley, Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis are one step closer to the end, and their window of opportunity is beginning to close.

    With the salary cap and free agency, it's virtually impossible to keep a team together from year-to-year, and the 49ers are no exception. 

    Starters Jonathan Goodwin and Carlos Rogers are most likely gone. The 49ers also must make some key decisions on several players, including Tarell Brown, Donte Whitner, Anquan Boldin and Phil Dawson.

    The future is now for the team, and it will be up to general manager Trent Baalke to construct a roster that can win it all next season. 2014 will most likely be the final chance for this core group to win it together.

    The sands of time are slipping away, and a sense of urgency must become foremost in the minds of Baalke and Harbaugh.

    Let's take a closer look at five mistakes the 49ers cannot afford to make this offseason as they reshape their roster for another chance to win it all next season.

    Note: All stats are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com. All contract data is courtesy of Spotrac.com.

No. 5: Losing Phil Dawson

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    Phil Dawson was extremely reliable this past season.
    Phil Dawson was extremely reliable this past season.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    The San Francisco 49ers signed Phil Dawson to a one-year contract prior to the 2013 season. Dawson, who kicked for the Cleveland Browns for 14 seasons, brought his experience and strong leg to the windy confines of Candlestick Park. 

    He had a great year, converting 32 of his 36 field-goal attempts. He was extremely reliable and also a breath of fresh air with his outgoing personality.

    He made $2.35 million in 2013 and is now an unrestricted free agent. It is imperative that Baalke and the 49ers retain him. This team has a penchant for playing many close games, which makes his dependability valuable.

    Dawson was well-liked by his teammates and also very good with the media. He is an asset on and off the field. The 49ers need to retain him. 

No. 4: Retaining Carlos Rogers

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    Carlos Rogers suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the first two games of the playoffs.
    Carlos Rogers suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the first two games of the playoffs.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Carlos Rogers had a decent year this past season. However, he will be 33 years old this summer and makes too much money.

    The 49ers will save roughly $6 million in cap space by releasing him. At his age and salary level, it does not make sense to retain him. The sizable amount of money that they'll save by letting him go can be put to better use.

    The 49ers have Tramaine Brock at one corner and will make every effort to keep Tarell Brown, who is also a free agent. In addition, Chris Culliver will be back in the mix after missing the 2013 season due to injury.

    Look for the 49ers to also select a cornerback with one of their first two picks in the upcoming draft. 

No. 3: Releasing Anquan Boldin

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    Anquan Boldin catches this touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.
    Anquan Boldin catches this touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The San Francisco 49ers' most productive wide receiver in the 2013 season was Anquan Boldin. He had 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. 

    With Michael Crabtree out with an injury, Boldin became Colin Kaepernick's favorite target. He is a big target who uses his body and aggressiveness to compete for passes with defensive backs.

    Crabtree is now back, and the combination of him and Boldin, along with tight end Vernon Davis, will give defenders fits. 

    Boldin has also proved to be an excellent leader and mentor for Kaepernick and the 49ers' younger receivers.

    San Francisco is likely to select a wide receiver early in the upcoming draft, but having Boldin for another season or two would be perfect.

    He made roughly $6 million this past season and was worth every penny. A two-year, $12 million extension would be appropriate in this case.

No. 2: Not Signing Colin Kaepernick to a Contract Extension

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    Colin Kaepernick's mobility is a tremendous weapon.
    Colin Kaepernick's mobility is a tremendous weapon.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Colin Kaepernick is not eligible to become a free agent until after the 2014 season. However, if he hits the open market, he will command a very large salary. If the 49ers win it all next year, his salary level will skyrocket even more.

    By trading Alex Smith a year ago, the 49ers made a choice to give Kaepernick the starting nod. There is nobody waiting in the wings for him to falter. The 49ers are his team, and both he and the front office know it.

    He made less than $1.5 million this past season and will make just slightly above that in 2014.

    The time is now to sign him to an extension, as he will only gain more expensive.

    If GM Trent Baalke can sign Kaepernick to a four-year deal at $8-10 million per season, he would be wise to do so. Failing to do that will only cost the 49ers a lot more money in the long run. 

No. 1: Whiffing on the Upcoming Draft

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    Eric Reid hauls in an interception against the Packers.
    Eric Reid hauls in an interception against the Packers.Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    In 2013, the 49ers selected safety Eric Reid in the first round. He became a starter and an impact player on the defense.

    In 2011, the draft went well, bringing in Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Chris Culliver, Daniel Kilgore and Bruce Miller.

    GM Trent Baalke totally whiffed in 2012, as he selected A.J. Jenkins with the 49ers' first-round pick. He was a bust and was shipped off to the Kansas City Chiefs for their own bust Jon Baldwin, who is also a wide receiver.

    LaMichael James and Joe Looney remain on the active roster from that draft, and their jobs will be in jeopardy next season. 

    James has appeared mostly on special teams as a return man. He has been effective but rarely gets a chance to play in the offense. Looney is a backup guard and only saw action in four games this past season.

    Linebacker Darius Fleming is the only other holdover, but he has been injured for the past two years and has yet to play a down.

    The 2013 draft saw the 49ers trade up to select safety Eric Reid. He quickly became a fixture on the defense and looks like the type of impact player that the 49ers need.

    The jury is still out on the 49ers' other picks, including Vance McDonald, Corey Lemonier, Marcus Lattimore, Tank Carradine, Quinton Patton and Quinton Dial. The outlook is far better than the 49ers' 2012 draft, however.

    Three players from the 2013 draft, Carter Bykowski, B.J. Daniels and Marcus Cooper, did not make the team.

    The 49ers have six selections in the first three rounds and 13 overall. With the number of picks that Baalke has, he and the 49ers must find at least two or three impact players.

    This team is built to win now, and drafting players for depth or for the future is not what it needs. Baalke needs to be aggressive and make deals to fortify the roster for the 2014 season.

    Impact players are critical, so look for the 49ers to try and fill several areas of need in the first three rounds. These include cornerback, wide receiver and center. In addition, if Donte Whitner is not retained, they will need another strong safety.

    The 2014 draft is critical for the 49ers' success both now and in the future. Baalke must hit on his selections and cannot afford to whiff.