The San Francisco 49ers made it one step closer to winning the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy this past season, but ultimately fell short of their goal when they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
Counting the playoffs, the 49ers finished their season with a 13-5-1 record. They managed to win 13 games in 2011, but this season wasn't a regression by any means. They were a better team playing a tougher schedule, with some slip-ups against below-average competition.
"Below-average competition" basically refers to the St. Louis Rams, who forced San Francisco into a 24-24 tie in Week 10 and then bested them by a 16-13 margin in overtime in Week 13.
After losing in the NFC Championship game in 2011, the 49ers added some key pieces in free agency and the NFL Draft, and did their best to eliminate mistakes heading into the playoffs. It got them to the Super Bowl, but only after being forced to complete a huge comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. Then, they fell behind big time against the Ravens and fell just short of completing the comeback in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco is a team built for long-term success, but there are still some needs to be addressed this offseason.
Biggest need: Safety
While Whitner has been much better than 49ers fans expected when he was signed, the fact remains that he's just not very good in coverage. He fits the "physical" bill that the 49ers require but, down the stretch, Whitner was exploited big time in the passing game, and he's not getting any younger.
Goldson played well enough and is a solid contributor in the passing and running game. He can deliver the big hits as well as any safety in the league. But, once again, Goldson seems to think he's earned himself absolute top dollar as he is set to enter free agency. Will the 49ers be able to keep him? That's the big question.
Other needs: Defensive line, wide receiver, cornerback, kicker
Last season, the 49ers loaded up at the running back and wide receiver positions, bringing in Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins. In the end, they basically had just James and Moss of those players, given the way the positions shook out.
Wide receiver was the most concerning of the two, especially after Manningham went down with an injury. It's no secret that Moss was essentially brought in to be a scapegoat, but with first-round pick Jenkins not catching a single pass all season, Moss was actually the No. 3 target behind Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis by the time the playoffs actually rolled around.
This hurt the 49ers, unquestionably. They'll likely want to add one of the free agent/potential trade candidate wide receivers this year, as there's some big names, including Percy Harvin and Greg Jennings.
Kicker David Akers was a huge liability in 2012, after having one of the best seasons of his career in 2011. He broke multiple NFL records that year, but was one of the worst kickers in the league last season. That's why the 49ers recently released him. Now, they'll need to find a replacement, either in free agency or the NFL Draft.
On the defensive line, the 49ers looked sorely depleted in the playoffs when Justin Smith was dealing with his triceps injury. It's clear that Smith isn't getting any younger and the 49ers will likely want to look into getting his replacement sooner rather than later.
At cornerback, Chris Culliver struggled mightily in the playoffs, and Carlos Rogers is getting older. It's likely Culliver isn't going anywhere, but San Francisco could use some more competition at the position.
After trading Alex Smith, the 49ers could also use a backup quarterback for Colin Kaepernick. Scott Tolzien is the other guy on the roster right now but it's unlikely he's ready to step into the backup role. A veteran in free agency seems likely.
NFL Draft outlook: 49ers have expected 15 picks
The 49ers will be picking at No. 31 throughout the draft due to being the losing team in the Super Bowl. Still, as a team looking for specific pieces at non-premium positions, it's likely they'll be able to get the players they're after.
On top of that, they have 15 expected draft picks counting three potential compensatory selections, one of which will be in the third round, with two in round seven. They also have a third-round pick from the Carolina Panthers, a pick from the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round, a pick from the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round and a pick from the Cincinnati Bengals in round seven.
On top of that, they have a second-round selection from the Kansas City Chiefs, which is basically a first-rounder, as it's the second pick in that round. This comes from the Alex Smith trade.
One has to wonder if the 49ers will pursue one of this offseason's trade targets like Darrelle Revis or Percy Harvin with some of their draft picks.
For what it's worth, the latest SB Nation mock draft has the 49ers taking Margus Hunt, the defensive lineman out of SMU, in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Salary cap situation: 49ers have space after moves
The 49ers have been working to clear up some cap room. They had around $1 million free for the 2013 cap, but the release of Akers cleared up $3.05 million, meaning they have a little more than $4 million in space for the 2013 season. On top of that, when the Smith trade goes through when the new league year begins, the 49ers will clear $8.5 million of space that was to go to Smith. Kansas City now takes on that cap amount, meaning the 49ers will have some space to work with.