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Conference Rival Report: Niner Woes?

Many of us expected a crazy free agency period and by all means it has been, despite what appeared to be a slow start by the Cardinals. Though after the Kevin Kolb signing the flood gates opened and the began FA's to pour in.

Our team has been covered with great extent lately, but how have our rivals been doing? First stop in this three part look is our loathed rivals, the San Francisco 49ers. 

We are all familiar with the yearly predictions that the Niners will win the conference. They brought in Mike Singletary in an attempt to toughen up a team that on paper appeared to be very talented in a weak NFC West conference. But ultimately he failed to turn the 49ers franchise around and in some opinions he actually set them back. After a few years of mediocrity the Niners called it quits with the Singletary experiment and brought in the highly touted college coach, Jim Harbaugh. 

Harbaugh gained much of his credibility by the success he had with Andrew Luck and the Stanford football team bringing them from mediocrity into college bowl contention. Many NFL experts expected sweeping changes from the Niners roster as Harbaugh looked to shape the team in his image. 

The Niners first move was a strange one in my opinion. In the draft they selected DE Aldon Smith out of Missouri. Many did not have him rated as a 7th overall pick (his average was around 14). He was touted as either a 4-3DE or as a 3-4 OLB because of his athleticism. Last season the Niners struggled getting consistent pressure from their OLBS and signed Smith to address their pass rushing problems. If Aldon pays off, in hindsight the moves makes sense.

While many NFL experts predicted the Niners would draft a QB in the first round to finally move past their unsuccessful stint with QB Alex Smith, they instead they saved that pick for the second round drafting Colin Kaepernick and stated to the world by resigning Smith that he would be their week 1 starter. If Kaepernick is their future, it will take a few years to see the fruition of it. Kaepernick is highly touted for his athleticism but marked down severely because he was considered very raw coming from a smaller school running a spread offense and because of an unorthodox release. 

Overall the Niners were considered to have had a decent draft, nothing shocking but nothing horrible as they addressed needs and picked relatively safe. Their fear lied with the FA period as they had several defensive starters with expiring contracts as shown below

Manny Lawson LB 49ers Agreed to 1-year $3M deal with Bengals
Alex Smith QB 49ers Agreed to 1-year, $5M deal with 49ers
Aubrayo Franklin DT 49ers UFA
Ray McDonald DE 49ers Agreed to 5-year, $20M deal with 49ers
Troy Smith QB 49ers UFA
Takeo Spikes LB 49ers Agreed to 3-year deal with San Diego
David Baas C 49ers Agreed to deal with New York Giants
Brian Westbrook RB 49ers UFA
Travis LaBoy LB 49ers Agreed to deal with San Diego
Barry Sims T 49ers UFA

So far the Niners have lost Manny Lawson and Nate Clements to the Bengals. It is seeming like Aubrayo Franklin will resign as he was not the hot commodity many experts predicted. As a Cards fan, I would love to see him go to another conference as he is one of the best NT's in the game and manhandled Sendlein in both games last season. If he signs else where it will be a big loss for the 49ers. The Niners also lost starting center David Boss and starting MLB Takeo Spikes. 

The Niners believe they have several replacements for the parts that have left, like Navarro Bowman for Spikes, recently signed Madieu Williams for Dashon Goldson (should he sign elsewhere), and Aldon Smith for Lawson but so far have not made the splash many Niner fans were hoping for. 

The opening paragraph from the SFgate states this:

Armed with Twitter accounts, 49ers fans have fired off a flood of 140-character-or-fewer missives detailing their dissatisfaction with San Francisco's approach to free agency since the lockout ended

Read more 

According to profootballtalk the Niners have been the 5th least active NFC team in FA this year with only 6 signings (you have to count manually, which brings up a few surprised like Baltimore, Dallas, Buffalo and Green Bay's 3 FA acquisitions apiece). The Cardinals on the other hand have been the most active with a whooping, 18 acquisitions. Two more than the next team, the New Orleans Saints

At the end of the day there are many questions left for the Niners. WR help with Crabtree on the PUP list. RB help with Frank Gore finally coming to the end of a fantastic career. CB help after losing the Asomugha sweepstakes and Clements and of course the QB situation. Can Harbaugh turn around Alex Smith's career? Is Kaepernick the answer? And the questions may grow if Aubrayo Franklin decides to leave the Niners behind.

The 49ers still of course have the best MLB in the game in Patrick Willis and though Frank Gore is more oft injured these days, he is still a threat. Especially behind the line the 49ers have established with Joe Staley a very underrated tackle, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. 

Taking a look at the big picture from an outsiders perspective it appears on paper the 49ers have not improved and may be in for a disappointing season in a conference that looks to have improved.