This offseason for the San Francisco 49ers is set up to be an exciting one. Although we are in a sluggish time, in between the end of the season and the beginning of free agency, I'd be inclined to compare it to the calm before the storm.
There is a lot of silent activity going on right this moment.
The preparations for next season have already begun, as player evaluations are surely underway. After self-evaluating, the Niners will be looking toward the draft and free agency to upgrade this roster. But beyond personnel, Jim Harbaugh will be examining and pursuing every conceivable way to put this team in a more advantageous position than they were this time last year.
Here are the top-5 things to be excited about this offseason:
5. New Motivational Devices by Harbaugh
One of the intriguing aspects of having Jim Harbaugh as a head coach is his ability to reach players on a personal level. He likes to inspire and likes to make his players think, which is a reason why he is such a great motivator.
With his actions, Harbaugh gives this team an identity.
In 2011, Harbaugh broke out the blue-collar shirts, and assigned a proper time to un-tuck one's shirt. The next year it was the "Forty Niner Way" sign out on the practice field, reminding the team of their identity as they walk back and forth to the locker room.
While gimmicky to the outside world, it resonates with the 49ers.
After being five yards away from their ultimate goal, it will be interesting to see what slogan or device Harbaugh employs to help his team rebound.
4. Staff and Personnel Upgrades
With the nature of the offseason, there will be old faces leaving and new faces arriving. And at the end of the day, it is with the hopes that these personnel decisions ultimately improve the state of the team.
As we've gone over, the Niners could be clearing some cap space by releasing guys like Jonathan Goodwin, Donte Whitner and Parys Haralson, for instance. While this is still in theory, it is not out of the realm of possibility.
One could argue that Goodwin is replaceable and that Whitner underperformed in coverage. Both players signed short-term back-loaded deals that will see them both earn their highest salary in 2013. And meanwhile, Haralson might be too much of a luxury as a backup.
The Niners may want to shed these contracts and get younger for cheaper. And by doing this, they open windows for themselves to upgrade. The Niners have been extremely proficient in the past two offseason, really filling out this roster and making them a more complete team.
San Francisco will look to add and subtract via free agency, the draft and trades.
The 49ers can also improve on the sideline by adding another offensive mind to add perspective. The idea of having Chris Ault as a consultant or an assistant is intriguing.
Ault was Colin Kaepernick's head coach at Nevada and the wizard behind the Pistol offense. With Ault's guidance, Kaepernick accumulated over 14,000 all-purpose yards and multiple NCAA records.
He retired from Nevada this year but not from football, saying, "I have a lot left in me. I'm in my offensive prime. I feel good about where I'm at. My energy level is still very high. Whether I coach again, I don't know."
There was speculation that he could be reunited with Kaepernick in San Francisco.
Ault can provide the team with a fresh outlook and help this team move forward into the Kaepernick era. It will be interesting to see if the 49ers revisit this possibility.
3. Getting Healthy
The great thing about the offseason is that it gives guys an opportunity to get fresh again. And for the 49ers - who endured a number of season-ending injuries - they will be getting a huge boost from players who couldn't perform in Super Bowl XLVII.
Justin Smith (tricep), Mario Manningham (ACL, PCL), Kyle Williams (ACL), Kendall Hunter (Achilles) and Darius Fleming (ACL) will all have an opportunity to get back to health.
These are players the Niners otherwise didn't have toward the end of the season, and they still made a tremendous effort.
It will be interesting to see how the Manningham and Williams develop with Kaepernick behind center. In this evolving spread offense that pushes the ball downfield, these two could really showcase their athleticism.
Next year will be really exciting because we will have our first look at the three-headed monster made of Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. This should be one of the most dynamic backfields in the NFL.
It will also be interesting to see what Fleming can bring from the OLB position. The Niners could also use more contributors on special teams with the potential losses of Tavares Gooden and Larry Grant.
2. 14(+) Draft Picks
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, the 49ers should have roughly 14 draft selections at their disposal this April. This puts one of the league's most talented teams in the driver's seat come draft day.
49ers 2013 picks:
1. First round: Own pick
2. Second round: Own pick
3. Third round: Own pick
4. Third round: From Carolina in trade-back during 2012 draft
5. Third round: Likely compensatory selection
6. Fourth round: Own pick
7. Fifth round: Own pick
8. Fifth round: From Indianapolis in trade-back during 2012 draft
9. Sixth round: Own pick
10. Sixth round: From Miami in trade-back during 2012 draft
11. Seventh round: Own pick
12. Seventh round: From Cincinnati for Taylor Mays
13. Seventh round: Likely compensatory selection
14. Seventh round: Likely compensatory selection
The Niners have the leverage and flexibility to make all sorts of moves, including trades in the draft and trades with teams during the free agent period. They are in a position to orchestrate the NFL Draft and make low-risk, high-reward moves with desperate teams.
A lot of people are curious as to how the situations with Darrelle Revis in New York and Percy Harvin in Minnesota work out. The Niners have the picks to pry them away, but both will demand blockbuster deals upon their arrival.
But maybe Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke are willing to rent one of them for the year and party like it's 1994. Deion Sanders' career with the 49ers was short-lived but it was productive. If San Francisco believes Revis or Harvin can put them over the top, do they roll the dice?
With Harvin and Crabtree, you have two of most dangerous WR after the catch, and #49ers could get creative with Harvin in backfield w/ Kap.— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) February 11, 2013
1. Kaepernick's First Offseason as the Starter
This is No. 1 on my unofficial list because this is what could impact the franchise the most. It is also the most intriguing storyline heading into the offseason. Kaepernick has had two years in the NFL and not a single offseason training as a starter.
And while he prepared mentally as a starter, Alex Smith was taking the first team reps. This offseason will be a completely different show and Kaepernick will be at the center of it all. This new-look offense was founded midseason and was forced to find a groove.
Kaepernick will finally get to work with his receivers for an entire offseason and develop chemistry with each one of them. If the Niners can establish some sort of rhythm outside of Michael Crabtree, this offense could be a top-5 passing unit.
His development with Vernon Davis and A.J. Jenkins will be major story lines this offseason.
But overall, the 49ers should look forward to Kap's growth within the offense. Colin Kaepernick should look to get quicker in his progressions and become more a proficient decision-maker. This will also be an opportunity for him to show his leadership and assert himself into a more prominent role for the franchise.