Grab a cup of coffee. Pull up a chair. And let's talk Niners.
The Scouting Combine is over, the draft looms, and it's time to take stock of the almost-Super Bowl champs by asking a simple question: What issues do they face?
They must decide if they want to keep free safety Dashon Goldson or let him go. He wants $8 million per year for five years, and he's worth it. (On Monday, the 49ers declined to slap the franchise tag on him.) But eight big ones may be more than the 49ers can afford, especially when they already are paying big bucks to Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Carlos Rogers. The 49ers have one of the most expensive defenses in the league.
But if they let Goldson go, they have to replace him. That means finding a new quarterback for the defense, and that's risky. And there's something else. Goldson's main skill is hitting. As we saw in the playoffs, the Niners' defense needs coverage and pass rush. They certainly have an issue with Goldson.
They need to fix the secondary in general. Chris Culliver got embarrassed in the Super Bowl — the Ravens' whole game plan was to throw deep at him. Rogers has lost a step and Tarell Brown is short. The Falcons went after Brown successfully with Julio Jones in the NFC Championship Game. And then there's Donte Whitner. He gave up 12 touchdown passes in the regular season and two in the Super Bowl.
The Niners need to take a serious look at Justin Smith, the best player on the team. He ended the season wearing a brace on his left elbow and he was not effective in the Super Bowl. He'll probably be OK next season, but he turns 34 in September. The Niners need to plan ahead, especially if Smith's backup Ricky Jean Francois leaves. It would be bad if Smith blows out his elbow in, say, Game 2 and the 49ers have no replacement. Big issue here.
That brings us to the main issue on defense. The 49ers must figure out why their defense collapsed in the playoffs. Was it a personnel problem or a strategy problem, or both? If the Niners do not face this head on, they are asking for a bigger problem.