San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) celebrates his touchdown with tight end Vernon Davis (85) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. (PHOTO: US PRESSWIRE)
NEW ORLEANS -- Loaded.
That is the San Francisco 49ers, who after a runner-up appearance in Sunday night's Super Bowl XLVII appear poised for a potential dynastic-type run given a loaded roster facing few potential offseason departures.
Think about it. Their biggest roster subtraction figures to be a wink-wink one with the expected mutual departure of backup quarterback Alex Smith, who is due $1 million in guaranteed salary. Smith will receive an additional $6.5 million in base salary for 2013 should he remain on the roster after April 1, an unlikely prospect.
Every indication is that coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke are inclined to do right by Smith, who played the team-first good soldier when a concussion suffered against the St. Louis Rams Nov. 11 opened the door for Colin Kaepernick's ascension as the new-wave, dual-threat face of the franchise.
Smith is expected to request his release before the start of free agency March 12.
Harbaugh said this past week how appreciative he is of Smith's unselfish mindset.
"He coaches Colin now more than I do, and that speaks volumes of the kid of person and teammate that Alex Smith is," Harbaugh said.
Of their soon-to-be free agents, safety Dashon Goldson would seem the biggest priority to re-sign and keep alongside Donte Whitner in the secondary. Other free agents such as tight end Delanie Walker and receiver Randy Moss, 35, might be allowed to walk, especially given the depth of young receivers still stacked on the depth chart.
Harbaugh, however, on Friday repeated his desire for Moss to stay, saying, "For official publication, I, for one, definitely want Randy to come back. Hope he feels the same way."
Harbaugh also said Moss held up well physically. Moss hasn't said much, and it's possible it could come down to money.
And don't forget former New York Giants receiver Mario Manningham, who was having a solid season before suffering a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament Dec. 23 against the Seattle Seahawks. Manningham is expected to make a full recovery and be back at full strength after contributing 42 catches for 449 yards with a touchdown.
Harbaugh and Baalke are expected to look to the draft for a bigger, more complete tight end than Walker, who has had issues at times with dropped passes. His 21 catches, including three for touchdowns during the regular season with just two more postseason catches, make Walker another replaceable part.
An ideal draft target upgrade?
Look no further than Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, a 6-6, 252-pound all-around threat out of a pro style offense who would plug in to Harbaugh's system adapted from his days coaching in Palo Alto.
Of course, the 49ers would likely have to move up into the top 15 of the first round. But that shouldn't be a problem for a team with few holes to plug and later-round draft picks to burn as trade currency.
And remember the 49ers have the equivalent of another first-round pick - last year's top pick, slot receiver A.J. Jenkins, who remains in the pipeline and has had a year to acclimate to their system.
Then, there is this: Typically, a Super Bowl team has its coaching staff raided. That wasn't been the case for the 49ers during the road to their first Super Bowl in 18 years, and it doesn't figure to an issue now.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman was reported to be a designated target of new Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell. But Roman's long-time friend Caldwell filled the Jaguars head-coaching vacancy with former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
San Francisco 49ers running backs coach Tom Rathman said of Roman this week that, "To our benefit, we kept winning, and he's here."
That figures to be the case for most of the 49ers.
If there is one coach the 49ers could still be at risk of losing, it might be defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. That is, if New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton is still searching for a defensive coordinator to replace the fired Steve Spagnuolo following the Super Bowl.
By Jim Corbett