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The 49ers have their franchise quarterback, which means their window of contention is open

This means taking a whole new approach to the next steps of the process.

The toughest position to fill on an NFL roster is the quarterback. Sure, you can find a lot of players who can play quarterback, but finding a franchise quarterback is the toughest part of roster-building in the NFL.

The San Francisco 49ers have been trying to find one dating back to Steve Young, thinking they were close on at least two separate occasions. I honestly don’t recall if Jeff Garcia was ever viewed as that potential option, but we do know spending the No. 1 pick on Alex Smith, and then signing Colin Kaepernick to a sizable extension were two indications they thought they had their guy.

The team finally thinks they’ve got their franchise quarterback. They acquired and have now signed Jimmy Garoppolo. John Lynch talked about how teams that don’t have a franchise quarterback are constantly looking for one, but, “we feel like we have our guy now.”

Most of us are optimistic about Garoppolo, but none of us knows for sure how this will all play out. John Lynch admitted as much, saying there will be tough times along the way. But he also was excited given what Garoppolo did in such a short time span this past season. The team is comfortable with building around the young QB.

Now that they have the guy they want to build around, the 49ers rebuilding process is set to move in a drastically different direction. They are coming off a 6-10 season, but they are no longer a rebuilding team. Their window for contention has officially opened. Sure, things could go south with Jimmy G, but again, the contract suggests the 49ers see their window as open and ready to move forward as such.

Gil Brandt recently put together a ranking of the team’s with the biggest Super Bowl windows. The Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams topped the list, but the 49ers were right behind them in third. The team has an excess of cap space and significant draft capital with which to add more impact talent.

They have a window for contention in front of them, and this coming free agency period will be key to moving this forward. It is ridiculous to say it is Super Bowl or bust at this point, but it will be a disappointment if they are not competing for a playoff berth this fall. The playoffs themselves are a game-by-game crapshoot, so unless you are a team like the New England Patriots (or Philadelphia Eagles, I suppose), it’s best to focus on making the playoffs and taking it from there.

John Lynch acknowledged that the 49ers have a lot of work to do. They won their final five games, and looked like a whole new team under Jimmy Garoppolo — But they still have plenty of work in front of them to shore up the defense, find more offensive line protection for Garoppolo, and add more skill position players.

That being said, this roster is moving in the right direction. A strong offseason should put them in position to compete for the NFC West title this fall. It adds plenty of pressure to a young team, but I can’t imagine they would want anything less.