Editor's note: This is a post from Tim Kawakami's "Talking Points" blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/.
You all saw the season -- the 49ers for once maximized the talent on their roster, developed young players, coached and performed crisply, stormed to the NFC Championship Game. ...
And lost in the end after a few mistakes that couldn't be overcome.
Big picture: They're loaded, they're young, they're totally cohesive, and they support each other powerfully (as evidenced by their vocal backing of Kyle Williams after his two blown punt returns).
But the 49ers clearly don't have enough offensive play-makers.
(1-for-13 on third-down efficiency, with the one being on the last play of regulation, when the NYGs were backing up just to make sure the 49ers didn't score ... that's a neon-lit sign of NO PLAY-MAKERS.)
Yep, 49ers receivers caught 1 pass for 3 yards yesterday. The 49ers ran 57 offensive plays, gained 328 yards, and only one play resulted in a reception by a WR.
That is a stunning number and it is amazing that the 49ers got as close to a Super Bowl as they did when you understand how little they got from their WRs -- in both playoff games.
I was watching the entire field for those plays. I can tell you Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams were not getting open ... and if the 49ers put third WR Brett Swain out there at any time in an offensive set, I didn't see it.
This was not Alex Smith's fault. Was not. The Giants defense didn't have too worry much about the 49ers' WRs -- CB Corey Webster erased Crabtree, essentially -- so they could focus on other things.
Vernon Davis hit them twice despite bracket coverage, which is a tribute to Davis' speed and ability, but that was about it in the passing game, except for one big gainer on a short pass to Frank Gore.
So ... What do the 49ers do about it?
It's not their style to go hard after the big-name free agents everybody else is chasing, and I generally think that's a wise strategy.
You end up overpaying because of the hot marketplace, and there just isn't a long history of expensive free agents coming in and making an immediate Super Bowl impact.
Just ask Nnamdi Asomugha and the Eagles. Or Terrell Owens and any team he has signed with since he left the Eagles.
(How many big-ticket free agents did New England and the NYGs bring in last summer? How many have those two franchises ever brought in? Hardly any. Has turned out OK for them, I'd say.)
So I don't think the 49ers will wade too heavily into the free-agent market -- guys like Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston are either likely to be franchise-tagged by their current teams or will cost too much for the 49ers' tastes.
The 49ers will assess the situation, for sure. Maybe a guy like Bowe can come at the right price. But it's not the 49ers' way of doing business these days.
Remember, 49ers fans shrieked for the team to sign ANYBODY WITH A BIG NAME last summer, the 49ers refrained, and the values they picked up later in free agency turned out to be high-quality performers ... except WR Braylon Edwards, of course.
I'd say the 49ers are likely to go shopping again for the second- or third-tier guys, hoping to find a bargain value.
And their real targets for a chance at a real difference-maker will come in the draft -- this is a draft-and-develop team under Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh.
The problem with that this year, of course, is that the 49ers are going to be drafting way in the back of the first round (30th, I think), and the two or three best WR prospects are likely to go in the top 20 or so.
I'd think Floyd would be ideal for the 49ers -- big, fast, explosive, proven play-maker. Wright would be a classic slot-receiver/Victor Cruz type, possibly.
So how do the 49ers get up into the top 15-20? That's valuable territory.
They've got a lot of players other teams would want in a trade, but the 49ers should and will want to keep almost all of those valuable players. That's why they're good -- because they have those players; they'll want to keep them.
There is one luxury item on their roster, however. One valuable player who contributed nothing to the 13-3 season and victory over New Orleans.
That'd be last year's No. 2 pick, Colin Kaepernick, drafted as the QB of the future.
But what do you do with a QB of the future when the current guy looks like he's just coming into his own -- and he won't be 28 until May?
Of course, we're talking about Alex Smith. And it must be pointed out that he's an unrestricted free agent, so nobody is sure how that negotiation/discussion might work out for the 49ers or Smith.
But I think it's a safe bet to say Smith wants to remain with Harbaugh, and that Harbaugh and Baalke (and Jed York) very much want Smith to remain with the 49ers.
Realistically, even in the ga-ga rush of his comebacks vs. New Orleans, it's probably not like NFL teams were lining up to pay Smith $12M a year for five years.
He has value, yes. But mostly, it's to the 49ers and in the 49ers-Harbaugh-style: Play it safe, use your legs when necessary, hit the receivers when they're open and don't force it in there when they're not.
So the 49ers need to re-sign Smith to a good but not crazy contract (maybe 3 years, $28M-$30M?).
I think that will be easy to determine for the 49ers front office and I think Smith will want a little more, but they can hammer that out.
Smith has to be the main plan for 2012; Kaepernick isn't ready for that move, and Smith is just starting to show us what he can do as an NFL QB.
And if you're the 49ers -- and Kaepernick -- suddenly the guy drafted to be the QB of the future is in limbo, because the future just got a longer away, thanks to Smith's very credible play this season.
Would the 49ers consider trading Kaepernick if, say, they could package him plus their own No. 1 pick and move into the top 10 for a chance to draft Floyd?
Kaepernick's value grew, in my opinion, when Matt Barkley and Landry Jones opted to remain at school for next season, severely weakening the QB class in this year's draft.
The only QB sure things in this draft now are Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
I'd put Kaepernick over Nick Foles or Ryan Tannehill.
So if you're a QB-needy team, and you can't draft Luck or Griffin and you don't land one of the massive free agents (Matt Flynn or possibly Peyton Manning, if the Colts release him), what do you do?
Presuming Indy drafts Luck No. 1, some other teams that will or should be searching for a starting QB/future QB include: Miami, Seattle, Washington, maybe Cleveland, maybe the Raiders, maybe Arizona, maybe Denver.
Maybe one of those teams liked Kaepernick coming out of college, and still likes him enough to give up their pick for him -- or some shuffling of picks.
If I'm the 49ers, and I know Harbaugh and Baalke can find the right veteran backup (Shaun Hill, anybody?) in the off-season, and can draft somebody interesting in the 4th or 5th round this year.
Maybe Kaepernick straight up for a pick that can get them Kendall Wright? Then they could use their own No. 1 for a cornerback? Those are the options I'm tossing out there.
If the 49ers feel that they're going to get -- or when they know they have gotten -- Smith re-signed, why wouldn't they look at getting a shot at Floyd or Wright by seeing what they could get for Kaepernick?
Could be the difference in a Super Bowl trip, or a few more failed efforts.
Just a thought.