49ers' wide receiver position can go many different ways in next couple years

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Did the 49ers plan to get another receiver to unleash the three-wide sets this season, or were they simply taking insurance for multiple departures?

The San Francisco 49ers had rumored interest in multiple wide receivers this offseason. There was, of course, the talk surrounding DeSean Jackson, but there were also rumors surrounding guys like Emmanuel Sanders, Hakeem Nicks and Julian Edelman.

In short: the 49ers have identified wide receiver as an area of need. Not such a big enough area that they're willing to go big on one (as far as we know), but that likely has more to do with Colin Kaepernick and his pending contract extension more than anything. But aside from "the 49ers need another guy right now," I'm wondering what exactly folks think this group will end up looking like in, say, a year.

For instance: Anquan Boldin likely will not be worth a $6-plus million cap hit in 2015. The primary reason San Francisco needs to get a wide receiver is the fact that Boldin, while age-defying to this point, simply will not last for ever. Even repeating his 2013 campaign itself is a longshot. It would benefit the 49ers the most to bring in a rookie while Boldin is still in town.

When you look at San Francisco bringing in these free agents, however, it's easy to imagine them playing with both Boldin and Michael Crabtree this year. We can assume that the 49ers wanted to run some three-wide sets, which Jim Harbaugh himself alluded to. But there's also the possibility that the 49ers wanted to secure something akin to a No. 1 receiver on the off-chance that Crabtree doesn't return in 2015.

Crabtree's contract ends after this coming season, and if he has a big year, I'm not sure where the 49ers are going to find the money to bring him back. I'm not going to get in that exceedingly silly diva rhetoric, but Crabtree is going to want to get paid. He's going to want to get paid like the excellent receiver that he can be.

San Francisco might not be able to afford that. Many have suggested drafting a receiver in one of the top two rounds, and I can definitely see the need. We could be looking at a 2015 campaign in which neither Boldin nor Crabtree are in town. That's a scary prospect, but one that the 49ers at least made an attempt to address this free agency period.

In other words, I firmly believe the guys they went after this offseason were more about insurance than a 2014-15 play for a re-vamped high-flying offense. I don't think Harbaugh planned on switching up the offense from a power-running attack to something that prominently featured three wide receivers on the field at once. I just think it's a position in transition that could go a number of directions at this point.

I suppose we'll see what happens in May.

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