After the San Francisco 49ers made it to the NFC Championship in 2011 and then the Super Bowl in 2012, expectations have become obviously very high. It wouldn't be a stretch at all to say that the 2013-14 season is "Lombardi Trophy or bust." Nobody's job is on the line or anything like that, but it's clear where the expectations are.
That said, I think it's somewhat overlooked how important the coming seasons are for the long-term viability of this franchise. I don't know about you guys, but I'd rather be the New England Patriots than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lombardi No. 6 will be great, but it's No. 7 and No. 8 happening this decade that's got me all hot and bothered.
San Francisco had a great draft at face value. Each and every player taken in the top four rounds stands a chance at being a starter, or even a No. 1 kind of player. Eric Reid, Tank Carradine, Vance McDonald, Quinton Patton, Marcus Lattimore and Corey Lemonier are the kind of guys who scream "future starters."
Some of these players will get work in this season. Reid will hopefully take the starting free safety job, Patton will hopefully step up with the injury to Michael Crabtree and McDonald will hopefully replace and build on the production of free agency loss Delanie Walker.
Those guys are the future at their positions, though. Carradine, Lattimore and Lemonier are also considered guys with the high potential to start, and though it might not happen this season, them learning the ropes and possibly seeing the field in some way would be huge. The 49ers went a long way in filling their needs this offseason, and they expect big things out of these players.
Say the 49ers don't win the Super Bowl, but Patton, Lemonier, etc. all have great seasons, or show something big. Say the 49ers don't win the Super Bowl and the following year, Lattimore hits the ground running because he had a year to rehab even more than probably necessary and learn the playbook. Say these things lead to more Super Bowls down the line in which the 49ers, you know, win.
Would that make it all worth it? You bet it would. The 49ers have the personnel to win a Super Bowl now but at the same time, we should all take a long look at the big picture this season, and root as hard as we can for the young guys to show some stuff.
This isn't a way to temper expectations and suggest that not winning the Super Bowl is somehow OK. No, you should definitely expect a Super Bowl victory next season, and you should be disappointed if anything but that happens. But do keep in mind there's a lot that needs to happen over the course of this coming season and the season after that, based on the youth on this team.