Fresh off a close loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII earlier this month, the San Francisco 49ers have several needs on both offense and defense heading into the 2013 NFL season. The good news is that coach Jim Harbaugh has a total of 14 draft picks in April's draft.
Here are the Niners' picks pre-compensatory announcement:
- First round, No. 31 (No. 31 overall): Own pick
- Second round, No. 31 (No. 61 overall): Own pick
- Third round, No. 12 (No. 74 overall): From Carolina in trade-back during 2012 draft
- Third round, No 31 (No. 93 overall): Own pick
- Fourth round, No. 31 (TBA): Own pick
- Fifth round, No. 24 (TBA): From Indianapolis in trade-back during 2012 draft
- Fifth round, No. 31 (TBA): Own pick
- Sixth round, No. 12 (TBA): From Miami in trade-back during 2012 draft
- Sixth round, No. 31 (TBA): Own pick
- Seventh round, No. 21 (TBA): From Cincinnati for Taylor Mays
- Seventh round, No. 31, (TBA): Own pick
The team is expected to add three more draft picks in the fifth to seventh rounds. Here are five offseason moves the 49ers can make in order to improve their team.
1. Trade Alex Smith for 2014 draft pick(s)
Obviously, the team will need to trade their long-time starter given the emergence of Colin Kaepernick and to avoid paying a backup quarterback $8.5 million in salary. The front office will reportedly ask for draft compensation in 2014 since the Niners are already loaded with 14 picks in this year's draft. San Francisco should try to get at least a second round draft pick from QB-needy teams such as the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, and Arizona Cardinals.
Which leads to my next point.
2. Avoid trading for Jets CB Darrelle Revis
Most fan forums are begging for general manager Trent Baalke to trade Smith for New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Absolutely not. The 27-year-old may have been the most dominant corner in the NFL prior to his season-ending knee injury in 2012. However, the 49ers need to stay away from another prima donna player. Revis wants to be the highest-paid player in the NFL, a distinction that currently belongs to Bills' linebacker Mario Williams who got a $100 million deal last year.
3. Trade CB Carlos Rogers in a packaged deal
If the 49ers can't get 2014 draft picks for Alex Smith, trade him and cornerback Carlos Rogers for an elite corner in a packaged deal. Rogers struggled in the Super Bowl and throughout the 2012 season. His four-year, $29.3 million contract is way too expensive for someone who is turning 32-years-old in July.
By trading Smith and Rogers to a team that needs a quarterback, the 49ers will save nearly $11 million a year in salary cap. Those resources could be diverted to keeping deserving contributors such as safety Dashon Goldson who wants a long-term deal. Goldson is one of the league's best safeties and he has earned a big money contract.
In return, the 49ers can try and get the Jets' Pro Bowl corner Antonio Cromartie. New York badly needs a passer after Mark Sanchez's disastrous season. The Cardinals also have Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Let's not forget, San Francisco can include draft picks in a Smith-Rogers packaged deal. But the 49ers absolutely need to get an elite corner to complement Terrell Brown and Chris Culliver, especially during the playoffs.
4. Draft starting defensive linemen and backups
San Francisco's biggest weakness is the defensive line. This year's draft is loaded with defensive tackles. There are seven defensive tackles projected to be taken in the first round.
The Niners need to go with big linemen since they already have good pass rushers in linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. The lack of size upfront is placing too much pressure on San Francisco's secondary. Worse, safety Donte Whitner is often undersized in match ups against much larger tight ends and wide receivers. Clog up the middle to stop the run and place pressure on QBs.
Here are the best defensive linemen that, with 14 picks, the 49ers can afford to trade up for:
- Utah's Star Lotulelei (6-foot-3, 320 pounds)
- Missouri's Sheldon Richardson (6-foot-3, 295 pounds)
- Florida's Shariff Floyd (6-foot-3, 303 pounds)
- Alabama's Jesse Williams (6-foot-3, 320 pounds)
- Georgia's John Jenkins (6-foot-4, 359 pounds)
- Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins (6-foot-3, 320 pounds)
In addition, the Niners need to draft a backup to Donte Whitner in case he struggles next year. The team also has no depth at offensive line. Backup guard Leonard Davis is a free agent that turns 35-years-old. Starting center Jonathan Goodwin is also turning 35.
5. Sign a star wide receiver
This year's free agent class is loaded with top wide receivers. San Francisco needs to give Michael Crabtree help downfield. Randy Moss, 36, is a free agent and probably won't be back with the team. Ted Ginn, Jr. is also a free agent but he was never a pass catching contributor. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are both coming off season-ending knee injuries.
And 2012 first round pick A.J. Jenkins literally has no NFL experience. Injuries to any of the Niners' wide receivers could prove disastrous to a Super Bowl-caliber team.
Here are this year's top free agent wide receivers the 49ers should target:
- Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City Chiefs)
- Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- Wes Welker (New England Patriots)
- Greg Jennings (Green Bay Packers)