--DE Justin Smith won the Len Eshmont Award, the team's most prestigious honor. It's given to the player who exemplifies inspiration and courage and is voted on by the players.
--WR Ted Ginn Jr.'s knee probably won't require surgery according to coach Jim Harbaugh. Ginn missed the title game with a knee injury.
--CB Tarell Brown lobbied to return to the game after he collided with safety Dashon Goldson and needed assistance leaving the field. Brown injured his head and thigh and doctors prevented him from playing.
--CB Shawntae Spencer has one year left on his contract but asked to be released so he can play elsewhere. Spencer, a long-time starter at right cornerback, was inactive for the title game.
Smith is unsigned, but coming off his best season and with his sparkling play in the divisional playoff win, the 49ers have stated that they want him back. Discussions will likely focus on a three-year deal around 8 to 14 million a season. With Smith in on nearly every play, neither Kaepernick nor Tolzein got much playing time. This is not an area the team is likely to address in the draft or through free agency.
Gore went over 1,000 yards once again after getting a three-year extension in training camp. But Gore was limited from mid-November on -- he didn't play as much and he didn't possess the same speed. Gore insisted he was healthy all year, but he pulled out of the pro bowl indicating he did struggle with injury in the second half of the season. The need for a backup is clear and it's unclear whether Hunter and Davis can consistently provide it.
Easily the thinnest area of the team. Ginn excelled as a return man but is limited as a starter. Williams has vast potential as a slot receiver, while Swain was an in-season pickup and Hastings is a rookie free agent who made the roster late in the season after the release of Braylon Edwards. This area could use some attention in free agency and on draft day. Joshua Morgan is recovering from a broken ankle and is un-signed.
Vernon Davis became a big-time player in the playoffs and took to the new offense better than he ever has before. He should only get better. Walker had an inexplicable mid-season lull and then broke his jaw in the penultimate game. Nevertheless, he remains a threat as a blocker and a receiver. Peelle provided veteran moxie and may compete with Byham next year for the third spot. With Jim Harbaugh's love of tight ends, adding a fourth tight end would not be out of the question.
The only player over 30 in this group is Goodwin. The rest of the players have promise, except for Rachal, who has disappointed as a former second-round pick. It's unlikely, but the 49ers could get away with not drafting an offensive lineman in the spring. This group, particularly players like Iupati and Davis only figure to get better. Snyder is unsigned but his play this year and versatility makes him a valuable player.
The starting three are part of a powerful front seven. Smith went to the Pro Bowl for the third straight season and was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Both Sopoaga and McDonald were excellent against the run and while McDonald was hampered with a hamstring injury late in the year, he provided pass rush. Jean Francois could get some more playing time going forward and he can also play nose tackle. Dobbs and Williams were rookie free agents who will have to fight for their jobs next season.
It's only a matter of time before Smith works his way into the starting lineup. Bowman and Willis are the best tandem in football; Haralson is one of the best at setting the edge in the run game and his pass-rush skills are underrated. Grant played exceptionally well for Willis after he missed nearly four games with a hamstring pull. Gooden is mainly a special teams player. Brooks also had a terrific season but is an unrestricted free agent.
Starters -- LCB Carlos Rogers, RCB Tarell Brown SS Donte Whitner, FS Dashon Goldson. Backups -- CB Chris Culliver, CB Shawntae Spencer, CB Tramaine Brock, S Reggie Smith, S Madieu Williams, S Colin Jones. Injured reserve -- CB Curtis Holcomb.
Goldson and Rogers were elected to the Pro Bowl and both are also unsigned. Goldson causes turnovers but also allows big plays and for that reason isn't as high a priority as Rogers. Whitner was the master of the secondary, his intelligence and natural leadership skills help prevent the coverage breakdowns the team experienced last year. Spencer will likely leave and there's a crowded field of young safeties who will have to compete for jobs next season. another cornerback could be sought in the draft or free agency.
Taken as a group, this foursome was the best in the league. Akers and Lee set NFL single season records for field goals and punt return average, and Jennings is a frightfully consistent snapper. Ginn is unsigned and the team has a solid backup returner in Kyle Williams. The battery of Akers, Lee and Jennings is in the Pro Bowl.
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