NFL Nation: Aldon Smith

Smith
San Francisco 49ers All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who was hit with a nine-game unpaid suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday, released a statement through the NFL Players Association on Saturday morning.

“I apologize to my teammates, coaches, the entire 49ers organization and 49ers fans for not being able to contribute on the field for the next several weeks,” Smith said in the statement. “Over the last year, I have learned a lot and I’m working hard to grow from my experiences. I want to thank my family and friends, my teammates, my union and the 49ers for supporting me during this process. I will be at work daily to participate in all permitted work activities, and to support my teammates, just as they have supported me.”

Smith is allowed to work out at the team facility as well as attend meetings under the terms of the suspension, which breaks down into four games for violations of the substance abuse policy and five games for violations of the personal conduct policy.

Smith will lose $1.2 million of his $2.34 million salary, per ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- While there is little doubt a multi-game suspension for San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith is coming from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s arrival date has the team in a state of flux.

But not in disarray.

That’s because the 49ers know it’s coming, even if they don’t know exactly when or for how many games.

Smith
“Actually, because you have a feeling that something may happen at this point in the season, everybody’s getting reps now,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Tuesday. “All the guys that may play for him -- (Dan) Skuta, (Corey) Lemonier, (Aaron) Lynch, (Chase) Thomas -- all those guys have been getting a lot of reps. They’re all ready to go.

“It’s more of an issue when it happens in the middle of the season, just thrown at you like it happened last year. Then there’s no time to adjust. You just go.”

Last year, Smith checked himself into rehab following a Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts that dropped the 49ers’ record to 1-2. He was allowed to play in that game after a single-car accident in which alcohol was involved.

With Smith gone, the 49ers went 5-0.

“Guys, Skuta and Corey, stepped up big time for us,” said inside linebacker Patrick Willis. “It’s going to have to be like that again if we’ve got a situation.

“Regardless whether a player is down with injuries or he’s sick or a family cause, someone else has to step in and play just as well. Aldon has some big shoes to fill, but that’s why we’ve got to play team defense.”

Smith, who has numerous off-field transgressions on his docket including the DUI, weapons charges and a bizarre bomb threat at LAX, met with Goodell more than two weeks ago, making the delay in announcing a suspension a mystery of sorts.

Because while the NFL took heat for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice receiving “only”a two-game suspension after knocking out his fiancÚ, rumors have flown that Smith is in line for up to an eight-game suspension.

Late last week, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he had received no “indication” from the league about a looming suspension for Smith, a fourth-year player who was an All-Pro selection with 19.5 sacks in 2012.
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
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NFL Nation's Bill Williamson examines the three biggest issues facing the San Francisco 49ers heading into training camp.

The holdouts: The 49ers, fresh off three straight trips to the NFC title game and seemingly poised for another long postseason run, have the weathered many storms this offseason.

Yes, there are some issues that still linger. The 49ers do not know if tight end Vernon Davis and/or guard Alex Boone will continue their holdouts into training camp.

Both players stayed away from voluntary workouts, and then became official holdouts when they did not report to mandatory minicamp last month.

Both Davis and Boone want a new deal. There are indications Boone will stay away until he gets a new contract. Davis has wavered, but he could also miss a chunk of camp.

Both players are key to the offense and would be missed. The 49ers would have to rely on youth at both spots if the holdouts linger. Vance McDonald would play for Davis and Joe Looney would play for Boone. Neither player is the caliber of the player they’d replace.

Aldon Smith: The 49ers head to training camp not completely sure of the future of the standout pass-rusher. The 49ers are set to start training camp next Wednesday. Two days later, Smith is set to be sentenced for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face some jail time.

He could also be facing an NFL suspension. If Smith is out, the 49ers will need to find some more pass-rush help, and that’s what training camp will be for. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier helped the 49ers go 5-0 last season when Smith was in a treatment center. The team also drafted Aaron Lynch in the fifth round. If these players show a pass-rush burst in camp, that will make the 49ers feel better about the prospect of playing a long chunk without Smith.

New firepower: The 49ers have big potential on offense. Training camp and the preseason will be a time for the unit to gel and figure out the best approach to use all of the talent. The receiving crew is beefed up with addition of Stevie Johnson, through a trade with Buffalo, veteran Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington.

The depth of this season’s receiving group is light years ahead of last year’s unit. The thought of Johnson being the No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree is silly. Ellington, a South Carolina product, gives the 49ers an element they missed last season -- a burner who can take the top of the defense.

At running back -- the heart of the 49ers’ offense is still the ground attack -- Frank Gore will have second-round pick Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore, who appears to be healthy after missing last season while recovering from a 2012 torn ACL.

Hyde has looked great as a runner and receiver in the offseason. The second-round pick from Ohio State has a chance to make a big impact.

All of these new weapons of course, should help the overall game of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is entering his second full season as a starter.

The 49ers have big capabilities on offense, but the real work begins now.
Aldon Smith avoided charges for allegedly making a fake bomb threat at LAX in April.

However, he must learn from the incident. The San Francisco 49ers’ star linebacker has to realize that he has to do the right thing every day and his actions are going to be closely watched.

Smith put himself in this situation by having several off-field issues since entering the NFL three years ago.

Smith
In truth, even if misdemeanor charges were filed in Los Angeles, Smith would still have much bigger issues to contend with. But at least they are being addressed, and he does have a chance to soon get a clean slate. He will be sentenced July 25 for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face jail time. The NFL could also suspend him, as well.

However, those issues occurred before Smith took steps last September to get his life in order. He voluntarily entered a substance abuse treatment center and missed five games. The team was supportive and positive about Smith when he rejoined the team in late October and into the offseason. In October in London, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the fact Smith was seeking treatment could help him avoid or get a lesser suspension.

The landscape changed with the incident at LAX. The 49ers immediately put out a release stating they were “disappointed.” The team seriously considered not giving Smith his 2015 option despite it being a no-brainer business decision. Privately, people within the team and the league were furious that Smith was in the news again for negative reasons.

As part of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office’s decision not to file charges, they will have a hearing later this month with Smith. The goal of the hearing will be to teach Smith to avoid such situations in the future.

That is the ultimate lesson here: Smith has to avoid putting himself in bad situations.

The 49ers want him to succeed off the field, and they continue to support him. But if another situation arises, that might no longer be the case. As this review closes, Smith must make sure it’s the final bad situation he is involved in.


The only thing wrong about the San Francisco 49ers committing nearly $10 million to Aldon Smith is the timing.

It certainly could be perceived that exercising the 2015 option for the troubled pass-rusher at $9.75 million less than three weeks after his latest arrest is an undeserved reward. However, in reality, the 49ers’ decision Friday to grant Smith's option was the smart decision.

It keeps them in control of his contract. Not exercising the option would have been counterproductive.

The 49ers can pull the option and they can trade Smith. The option is only guaranteed if he suffers a major injury in 2014 that would affect the 2015 season. Had the 49ers not exercised the option, Smith, 24, would be set to become a free agent after the 2014 season. If that scenario played out and the 49ers decided to place the franchise tag on Smith next winter, his 2015 salary would be in the $12 million-13 million range.

It would have not made any football sense had the 49ers not exercised this option. Allowing Smith the opportunity to go to free agency next year could have been looked at as a reward. The 49ers are ultimately saving money by using the option and doing the best thing for the franchise.

If Smith’s off-field troubles continue this year, the 49ers can pull the option and move away from him. The 49ers have spoken to Smith on multiple occasions since his April 13 arrest at Los Angeles International Airport for a fake bomb threat. The team has made it clear giving him the option is not a reward, and they have major expectations for Smith moving forward.

The 49ers want to help Smith, as general manager Trent Baalke explained last week. They will stand by him until he gives them no choice but to move away.

The 49ers likely waited until eight hours before the option deadline to make Smith understand the ramifications, but also to show the public that they carefully considered this decision. This wasn’t a simple circumstance, but in the end it was really the only call San Francisco’s brass could make. The only risk here would be seeing Smith get his act together and see another team enjoy the fruits of the 49ers’ growing pains with Smith.

If the 49ers don’t pull the option, they will have one less front office issue next year. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati are all entering the final season of their contracts. Not worrying about Smith gives the 49ers one less franchise-tag option.
This has always been a critical year in the relationship between Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.

With Miller still recovering from ACL surgery and slated to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2014 season, team officials face their first major decision about Miller's contract. The team has until May 3 to exercise an option year in Miller's rookie deal that would put him under contract for 2015. With 15 days before the deadline, the Broncos had not yet reached a decision as Friday's business day drew to a close.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesDenver has two weeks to decide whether it will exercise an option on Von Miller's rookie contract.
In 2011, the first year of the current collective bargaining agreement, teams were given the option of a fifth year for first-round draft picks as part of the transition to the new rookie wage scale.

The "fifth-year option" must be engaged by May 3 and the option-year salary doesn't become guaranteed until March of 2015. So, it is possible for teams to engage the option year and potentially release the player at a later date before the base salary is guaranteed.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Friday that the San Francisco 49ers did not plan to engage the fifth-year option on defensive end Aldon Smith, who was the No. 7 pick of that draft, but several players have been informed their teams would pick up the option. This includes Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (the No. 11 pick), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (No. 5) and San Diego Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget (No. 18).

The Broncos made Miller the No. 2 pick of that draft, behind Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. With 30 sacks over his first two seasons, including 18.5 in 2012, Miller looked to be on the fast track to elite status in the league.

Miller then opened the 2013 season with a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy -- a violation that now subjects him to testing up to 10 times a month for the rest of his career. Several off-the-field issues, including an arrest last summer on a failure-to-appear warrant and several traffic violations, also dogged him last year.

He then tore his ACL against the Texans' in December and again raised some eyebrows with the team when he tried to attend a Seattle Seahawks victory party following the Broncos' 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

For the first 10 picks of the 2011 draft, the salary for the option is this year's transition tag salary in free agency at their respective positions. The figure is calculated as an average of the top 10 salaries at those spots. For Miller that would mean a $9.754 million salary if he's on the roster when the new league year begins next March.

If the Broncos decline the option and Miller returns from his injury and shows his former speed and explosiveness and more maturity off the field, the team could still use the franchise tag to keep him.

That scenario would cost slightly more since the franchise tag salary for linebackers was $11.455 million this year and could be higher next season. A franchise player's salary is guaranteed the moment the player signs the tender. Some players sign them as soon as they receive them to guarantee the money, and some wait until training camp, hoping a long-term deal is worked out instead.

The Broncos and Miller could, if both sides found some common ground, still negotiate a long-term extension.

Miller said at an appearance for his foundation Monday that he continues to work hard to return from his knee injury, and that he wants to return "a better player" than he was. The Broncos open their offseason conditioning program Monday, but Miller will not participate. He will continue with his knee rehab with the team's trainers and strength and conditioning staff.
The San Francisco 49ers' patience with troubled star pass-rusher Aldon Smith is wearing thin.

Smith
ESPN Insider Adam Schefter's report Friday that the 49ers are not expected to exercise the 2015 option on Smith says it loud and clear. The deadline on the option is May 3. Smith would be paid $9.75 million in 2015 if it is exercised. However, it is only guaranteed by a major injury and it could be pulled.

If the 49ers don't exercise the option, he will be a free agent after the 2014 season. If the 49ers then decide to give him the franchise tag, it would likely be in the $12 million to $13 million range.

Here's the bottom line: Not exercising this option isn't the prudent football decision. But the 49ers' frustration level with Smith, 24, apparently is so extreme that the best football decision may not be the focus here. If the 49ers do not exercise this option, it will mean they have lost faith in Smith and do not plan to have a long-term relationship with him.

Perhaps the 49ers are deciding public perception is more important than football in this case. Although it is low risk, exercising the option would be a sign Smith is being rewarded. With all the negative news surrounding him, it appears he has not earned a reward.

Smith's troubles escalated last Sunday when he was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport and booked on a charge of false report of a bomb threat. He has yet to be formally charged. Smith is also facing felony gun charges and his second drunken driving charge since he entered the NFL in 2011. Smith missed five games last season while he was in a treatment center. There is a strong possibility he will face NFL discipline this season.

If the 49ers, indeed, stay away from this option, it is a strong sign Smith will not be with the team for the long-term and the team will instead spend on the long-term contracts of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, receiver Michael Crabtree and perhaps guard Mike Iupati. All three players are entering the final season of their deals.

Also, if the 49ers don't exercise this option, expect them to seriously consider taking a pass-rusher early in next month's draft because Smith will no longer be a big part of their future.
We are going to hear a lot about Aldon Smith in the coming weeks.

Smith
The San Francisco 49ers' star pass-rusher was arrested Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of a false bomb report. He has a court date set for April 29 for previous arrests -- for felony gun charges and his second drinking driving arrest.

These issues, of course, have clouded his future with the 49ers as they must now make a decision about his future with the team by May 3. Because he was a first-round pick in 2011, Smith will become a free agent following the 2014 season should the 49ers decide against exercising an option for 2015.

Prior to the latest arrest, it appeared the 49ers would clearly give Smith the option, but that's now in question. NFL.com reported Monday night that the 49ers are not likely to exercise the option because they won't have all the information on Smith's legal issues by then.

However, others have -- including former Green Bay salary cap man Andrew Brandt -- opined the 49ers will likely exercise the option because there is little risk involved. Unless Smith suffers a major injury in 2014 that would affect his status in 2015, the 49ers have no risk. They can allow him to become a free agent next year if they don't feel they want to proceed with Smith.

But, by exercising the $9.754 option, the 49ers can lock in Smith rather than giving him the franchise tag in 2015, which will likely be more than $12 million or let him walk as a free agent.

If San Francisco doesn't exercise the option, it will be a clear sign that the team has many questions and possibly little faith in Smith. Watching this decision unfold will be fascinating.
Initial thoughts on the arrest of San Francisco 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith Sunday at the Los Angeles International Airport:

Troubling times: The arrest is the latest in a string of legal issues for the team, considered a favorite to make a run at the 2015 Super Bowl. Two weeks ago, starting cornerback Chris Culliver was arrested after a hit-and-run accident involving a bicyclist. He has been charged with a felony and two misdemeanors. Thursday, it was reported quarterback Colin Kaepernick and receiver Quinton Patton are being investigated as part of an incident in Miami involving a 25-year-old woman. Kaepernick took to Twitter to deny any wrongdoing. Kaepernick and Smith are two of the 49ers’ best players and the team wants to keep both for the long haul. Seeing headlines like these has to be beyond worrisome for the club.

Smith
What’s Smith’s future? Because he was a first-round pick in 2011, the 49ers must decide by May 3 whether or not to give Smith an option for 2015. It was previously considered a no-brainer for the 49ers to lock in Smith, one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL, for another season. If not, he will be a free agent at the end of this season. However, his latest arrest -- he has two other pending criminal cases -- will likely make the 49ers think about the option. The 49ers have other contracts looming (including Kaepernick's). If they feel they can’t trust Smith, they may not exercise the option, which would pay him more than $9 million in 2015. Smith missed five games last season (the team went 5-0 without him) when he sought treatment for substance abuse. The team has vowed to stand by him as long as he continued to stay straight off the field. It’s another reason why this arrest is so troubling.

League discipline is in play: The 49ers may have to play without Smith for a portion of this season. This latest incident could trigger discipline from the NFL. The league did not suspend Smith after the September arrest on a drunk driving charge. In October, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the fact that Smith voluntarily sought treatment could play a role in him not getting a suspension. I’m sure the league office is not pleased to see Smith in custody again.
Blaine Gabbert is no longer the Jacksonville Jaguars' problem. But it doesn't mean he is the San Francisco 49ers' problem either.

Many fans may be shaking their heads at the 49ers, who traded a sixth-round pick this year (and a conditional pick next year based on playing time) to the Jaguars to get Gabbert. He has been an unabashed bust since he was taken with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Look, the 49ers are not investing much here. They are simply taking a flier on a guy they liked three years ago at a bargain price. Expect the final year of his deal to be reduced; and the 49ers will still have 12 draft choices.

There is no guarantee Gabbert will even be the backup to Colin Kaepernick, who was taken 26 spots after Gabbert in 2011. Former NFL general manager Bill Polian said on ESPN on Tuesday he doubts Gabbert makes the 53-man roster.

But he will be given a chance by 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who went to his pro day at Missouri while scouting quarterbacks. Harbaugh loves quarterbacks. He and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke like Gabbert. Harbaugh and his staff will coach him up and see if they can salvage his career.

"We thought highly of Blaine as an early entry into the 2011 NFL draft," said Baalke, who took Gabbert's Missouri teammate Aldon Smith at No. 7 in 2011. "He is a high-character individual that will be given every opportunity to develop within our system and we are looking forward to working with him."

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson thinks the 49ers have their work cut out for them.

"Gabbert can throw it and maybe Harbaugh can get more out of him, but Gabbert has very poor pocket presence and awareness," Williamson said. "He plays scared."

The 49ers will likely give Gabbert the first crack to be the backup quarterback. But they could also draft a quarterback in the middle rounds and they like McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who finished the season on the practice squad.

This is a look-see trade. If it works, great. If not, the 49ers will continue their search for a long-term backup.
The NFL deadline for teams to place the franchise tag on players expired Monday without the San Francisco 49ers applying it.

That’s no surprise. It would have been a surprise if the 49ers did apply the tag.

The team’s top free-agent priorities, after re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin on Monday, are safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown. It simply did not make any financial sense to tag any of these players. Still, the 49ers want these players back and will continue to work toward deals with them before free agency starts on March 11.

Next year, perhaps, will be a different story. They have big-name free agents looming in the form of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, pass-rusher Aldon Smith and receiver Michael Crabtree. All three are priorities. Kaepernick could get a new deal this offseason. However it shakes out, I could see one of these players getting tagged this time next year.
Echoing what coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Thursday and keeping to the mantra of the organization, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke predictably had this message when speaking to the media Friday: the team’s free-agent plan will be to keep its own.

“Our No. 1 objective is to keep our own guys,” Baalke said.

Whitner
The 49ers' top priorities in the coming weeks (free agency starts March 11) are to re-sign receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson, and perhaps cornerback Tarell Brown. Whitner might be the most difficult to sign. If I had to guess, I’d say Boldin has the best chance of being signed before free agency.

In other topics Baalke addressed:
  • Baalke praised running back Frank Gore for another productive season in 2013 and told reporters the 49ers don’t necessarily have to approach Gore to take a pay cut. He is to make $6.4 million this season.
  • Baalke said he expects Michael Wilhoite and second-year player Nick Moody to fill in for linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the first half of the season as Bowman recovers from torn ACL. Baalke also indicated the team could bring in some competition. He said Bowman will not be rushed.
  • As he did in October, Baalke said the team has no intentions of trading running back/kick returner LaMicheal James. Baalke said he believes James, a second-round pick in 2012, will get more opportunities to run the ball moving forward.
  • Baalke said pass-rushing star Aldon Smith is going well and said the team has “a great support system for him." Smith missed five games in 2013 when he voluntarily entered a substance abuse center. He finished the season strong.
  • Baalke spoke glowingly of 2013 fourth-round pick Quinton Patton. The receiver finished the season strong after missing 10 games with a broken foot. Patton impressed the team with his zeal for the game.
The San Francisco 49ers have joined those around the NFL in commending Missouri pass-rusher Michael Sam for the courage he displayed when he announced on Sunday he is gay.

Sam was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and is considered a mid-round draft prospect in the May 8-10 draft. Sam could become the first openly gay active NFL player. 49ers general manager Trent Baalke gave the team’s website a statement it tweeted out Monday evening.

"The 49ers commend Michael for the courage he has displayed, as he continues to pursue his NFL career,” Baalke said in the statement. "We have and will continue to evaluate him as we do every draft eligible player, which is always based on their projected contributions to our team on and off the field.”

Sam was teammates with 49ers’ pass-rusher Aldon Smith at Missouri. Scheme wise, he appears to be a fit for the 49ers as a 3-4 outside lineback

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 4
Preseason Power Ranking: 2

Biggest surprise: The impact that Michael Crabtree's injury and then his return had on the team. When Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles in May, the 49ers knew it would affect their offense. But his absence was felt dramatically during the 11 games he was out. The 49ers had essentially nothing behind receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis in the passing game. However, when he returned Dec. 1, the 49ers were instantly a better, more varied, dangerous offense. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was more confident. The difference was stark.

Biggest disappointment: The loss at New Orleans on Nov. 17. The 49ers appeared to have sealed the game when linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked and forced New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to fumble late. But Brooks was called for a questionable personal foul. The Saints rallied to win. It was a major storyline in the NFL that week. Had the 49ers won, they would have finished 13-3, won a tiebreaker over Seattle in the NFC West and would not have had to play at Seattle in the playoffs.

Biggest need: The 49ers are deep. They don't have many holes. But they can use another young receiver. Boldin is 33 and a free agent. Fourth-round pick Quinton Patton looks promising, but San Francisco will likely take a speed receiver early in the draft. Expect the team to take a cornerback fairly early as well. The 49ers need to develop a young player there.

Team MVP: Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The 25-year-old had an amazing season. He is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He was dominant in virtually every game. He is a special playmaker. It was a sad sight seeing him being carted off in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss at Seattle with a major knee injury. Bowman is expected back next season. The 49ers need him.

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