49ers: Ranking Remaining Offseason Priorities

Phil G@FuturePhilGCorrespondent IMay 19, 2014

49ers: Ranking Remaining Offseason Priorities

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    After the hoopla that was the NFL draft, we should see a calming effect for the next several weeks. Of course, Johnny Manziel could be club hopping in Cleveland or Jerry Jones might decide to finally trade Tony Romo.

    The media storm would be quite the spectacle. The NFL is unpredictable, as they say. 

    Regardless, this won't have anything to do with the San Francisco 49ers. Coming off a strong draft, the 49ers still have some priorities to deal with prior to the start of the NFL season. 

    Can the 49ers secure their fourth straight NFC Championship appearance? Will key players like NaVorro Bowman and Mike Iupati be at full strength heading into the 2014 season? How will pending legal issues affect core starters like Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver? 

    Let's dig in!

5. Hunger

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    The 49ers have been to three consecutive NFC Championship games. Can they make it a fourth? 

    Well, that all depends if this Jim Harbaugh-led team is up for another daunting challenge. For one team to secure four straight NFC Championship appearances, there has to be a growing hunger yet to be extinguished. 

    The Buffalo Bills were the last team to make it to four consecutive championship games (1990-1993).

    The result? Zero championships. Regardless of the 49ers' thinking, this has to be at the back of their mind.

    Next season can't come soon enough!   

4. Contract Extensions

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    The 49ers have several players to extend on their contract-to-do lists. Let's ignore those with legal issues, including Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith, for now. 

    Two players to watch: wide receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati. 

    If you asked me a year ago, I would have emphatically stated that Mike Iupati is no longer a priority extended by general manager Trent Baalke. However, things have changed since. 

    With some of those legal issues affecting players like Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver, the 49ers might indeed have more money to satisfy Iupati. Now, the 49ers won't severely overpay for his services, but Baalke should have some more room to work with. 

    In the case of Michael Crabtree, anything can happen. We could see a deal done before training camp, though, I wouldn't bet on it. 

    Crabtree is such an important piece on offense, but is he really worth $55 to $60 million? In my personal opinion, a contract in the range of $45 to $47 million is fair for both sides. 

    Of course, Crabtree's agent doesn't care what I think. The real question is, how much does Crabtree believe he's worth? 

    If the 49ers can lock up one of the two, I say that's a win-win for everyone. 

3. Health

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    Outside of last season, the 49ers have been rather fortunate when it comes to major injuries. Again, the exception was last season. 

    In they're distressing loss to the Seattle Seahawks in last year's NFC Championship game, the 49ers were shot with two arrows. As if the loss didn't hurt enough for 49ers fans, but both NaVorro Bowman and Mike Iupati were dealt serious injuries.

    Even worse, both injuries could affect their availability to start the 2014-15 NFL season. 

    The 49ers made it to the playoffs last season largely without the services of Michael Crabtree. Can they do it again if both Bowman and Iupati miss significant time?

2. Legal Issues

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    The 49ers' legal issues have become such a nuisance to both the front office and fans alike. Can they get a break? 

    While I would like to believe Kaepernick will have his name cleared, the investigation is still ongoing. Luckily, Kaepernick has not been charged thus far. We can't say the same for Chris Culliver, however. 

    Yes, the investigation isn't over, but Culliver has a real shot of missing some time this season. The 49ers already looked past the despicable comments he made ahead the 2012 Super Bowl, but the multiple charges Culliver faces this offseason could force Baalke to take action. 

    The 49ers are already thin at the cornerback position, even with newly drafted defensive back Jimmie Ward.

    Moving along, how about Aldon Smith?

    Many are tired of Smith's excuses, but I feel for the guy. His problems seem far deeper than issues stemming from immaturity. 

    Regardless, Smith still may not play for the entire 2014 season. If so, the 49ers will need to find a consistent replacement for their dynamic pass-rusher. 

1. Quarterback Play

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    The No. 1 priority this offseason is improving the play of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Whether Kaepernick improves his decision making process or even footwork mechanics, its time for the fourth-year quarterback to take that next step. 

    Now, I wasn't a part of the crowd who believed Kaepernick took a step back in 2013. In fact, I thought Kaepernick took some positive strides playing within the pocket. 

    Was it all good? No, but with a raw talent like Kaepernick, patience is necessary. You can't expect Kaepernick to resemble Steve Young after only playing a little less than two seasons in the NFL. 

    With an improved receiver corps, and added depth among the skill position units, Kaepernick has all the tools and support to succeed in 2014.