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Five questions: San Francisco 49ers

Harbaugh AP

A tumultuous offseason has trickled into training camp, with guard Alex Boone holding out and underrated backup running back Kendall Hunter done for the year with a torn ACL.

Apart from the obvious questions regarding whether Boone will show and whether the 49ers will be able to replace Hunter’s contributions as a ball-carrier and blitzer-picker-upper, here are five questions that underpin the broader question of whether the Niners can kick in the door on which they’ve been knocking for the last three years.

1.  How much longer for Harbaugh?

Coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly wants to be paid like a guy who has won a Super Bowl even though, you know, he hasn’t.  That difference of opinion has lingered for more than a year, and Harbaugh is now a year and five months away from becoming a free agent.

Some believe that, unless a new contract is signed before the 2014 season ends, the end of the road will come after the coming season, with the 49ers allowing Harbaugh to leave or trading him to one of the six or seven franchises that inevitably will be hiring a new head coach.  (Those trade talks with the Browns from earlier this year won’t make the phone any less likely to ring.)

Plenty of other on-field and off-field issues have pushed the Harbaugh angle into the background.  It won’t stay in the background for a lot longer.

2.  Was Kaepernick underpaid, or overpaid?

Misguided reports based on false characterizations of the Colin Kaepernick contract created the impression that Kaepernick’s package resides among the best in the league.  And that triggered a strong backlash when the true numbers emerged, showing that Kaepernick did a team-friendly deal that allows the 49ers to keep him for up to seven years at a reasonable rate or to dump him if they find a better option.

Lost in the debate over whether Kaepernick did a really good deal is whether he’s a really good quarterback.  After torching the Packers to start the 2013 season with 412 passing yards fueled by Harbaugh’s rope-a-dope complaints about the hits Kaepernick takes in the read-option, Kaepernick averaged 185 passing yards per game over the rest of the regular season.  In seven post-Packers games before the bye week, Kaepernick threw six total touchdown passes and five interceptions.

A strong postseason performance (but for a misfire pass to Michael Crabtree with the season on the line . . . again) renewed his reputation as one of the great young quarterbacks in the league.  That could change again once the 2014 season begins.

3.  Can Aldon Smith stay out of trouble?

With a likely suspension coming after getting 12 days on a work crew and three years of probation in response to no-contest pleas to weapons and DUI charges, Aldon Smith may not be adding to that 42-sacks-in-43-regular-season-games performance during the first few weeks of the 2014 campaign.  The number of additional sacks and games that he racks up as a 49er depends largely on whether he can stay out of trouble.

The 49ers considered not picking up the fifth-year option on his 2011 first-round contract, a potentially hollow gesture aimed at getting Smith’s attention.  If they don’t have it, Smith eventually will drop that last straw onto the camel, and Smith’s career in San Francisco will be over.

At which point someone else will give him a second chance, not because of humanitarian concerns but because he can play at a high level.  If/when it’s determined he’s no longer a difference-maker, he’ll be making a living in a different profession.

4.  How much longer can Gore carry the load?

Not surprisingly, veteran running back Frank Gore isn’t ready to yield to Father Time, who continues to be a muther when it comes to tailback longevity.  With Kendall Hunter done for the season, the Niners will need Gore to be able to do more, in the event that Marcus Lattimore can’t get healthy or Carlos Hyde can’t get ready.

Gore has shown no signs of slowing down despite an expectation for several years that the wheels will come off.  Maybe they won’t for Gore, at least not for the next few years.

5.  Who emerges as the top target in the passing game?

Two years ago, Harbaugh boasted that the team had five No. 1 receivers.  Today, only Michael Crabtree remains from that quintet.

After a rocky start in 2012, Vernon Davis has become a Kaepernick favorite, which has bolstered Vernon’s quest for a new contract.  Crabtree, who held out into the 2009 season as a rookie, enters a contract year of his own.  Anquan Boldin had a solid season after a salary-dispute trade from Baltimore.  Supplanted by Sammy Watkins, Stevie Johnson arrives via trade from Buffalo.  Brandon Lloyd returns, 11 years and five teams after he was drafted in San Francisco.

It’s a vastly underrated group of weapons for Colin Kaepernick.  If Tom Brady had that group, they’d already be engraving his name on the regular-season and Super Bowl MVP awards.

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49 Responses to “Five questions: San Francisco 49ers”
  1. redandgoldhitman52 says: Jul 26, 2014 1:53 PM

    49ers will run the table. 19-0

  2. redandgoldhitman52 says: Jul 26, 2014 2:06 PM

    It’s a vastly underrated group of weapons for Colin Kaepernick.  If Tom Brady had that group, they’d already be engraving his name on the regular-season and Super Bowl MVP awards.

    stop it with the tom brady high praise. he choked twice against an average giants team in the superbowl. the 1st time with randy moss, brady had one of the best teams ever and barely put like 14 or 17 points on the board. my argument is that if brady was on the 49ers he’d get hurt real bad playing against the seahawks twice a year, panthers, saints. he wont be playing against afc competition , which is very mediocre. look at every playoff loss since his last superbowl. its 10 years of very poor performances. i’ll take kaepernick over brady any day.

  3. thegrigga49 says: Jul 26, 2014 2:08 PM

    I think they will be undefeated as well.

  4. osiris33 says: Jul 26, 2014 2:10 PM

    Oh I see, it was a Kaepernick “misfire” that gave the Seahawks the win. It wasn’t that Richard Sherman had Crabtree covered like blanket and made a huge play.

    Nah, it couldn’t be THAT…

  5. thegreatgabbert says: Jul 26, 2014 2:14 PM

    LaMichael James is Kendall Hunter with more speed.

  6. humb0lt says: Jul 26, 2014 2:16 PM

    There are at least five teams in the NFC better than the 49ers:

    Seahawks
    Saints
    Eagles
    Bears
    Packers

    The Niners will get bounced from the Wild Card round by one of these teams.

  7. stillers213 says: Jul 26, 2014 2:16 PM

    So, Aldon Smith will probably be getting a 1/4 game suspension by my calculation. Cue the elevator music!

  8. raiderufan says: Jul 26, 2014 2:18 PM

    If Kaep and Brady switched teams I’d still pick the 49er’s to win the division. I would not still pick the Patriots to win the division. Brady is a better QB right now….and that’s ok. It doesn’t devalue Kaep to say that.

  9. cornerstone2001 says: Jul 26, 2014 2:24 PM

    It wasnt a misfire pass to Crabtree…again.
    The Ravens mugged Crabtree at the end of the Super Bowl…along with every other receiver all day.
    That was intereference. The pass was perfect.

  10. braceyourselffor12 says: Jul 26, 2014 2:43 PM

    Harbaugh won’t leave the Niners for the obvious reason that the front office will not let a top 3 coach leave only to be replaced by someone with less value.

    Our receiving corp has been bolstered and running game fully intact (still sad to see Hunter go) because of our depth.

    The revamped secondary should actually be an improvement over last years but we’ll have to see within the first four weeks against pass happy teams how they fair.

    Our defense once again will set the tone and even with the likely Aldon Smith suspension we have guys waiting in the wings ready to make an impact.

    It’s an exciting time to be a Niner Faithful,

    GO NINERS!!!!!

  11. senoreno says: Jul 26, 2014 2:55 PM

    This niner team is the strongest yet under the Harbaugh era..

    Get better hunter! Let’s see what hyde and lattimore bring.

    Everyone says we are going to struggle wo smith and bowman

    Lemonier and skuta filled in nicely last year

    Wilhoite had 22 tackles in two games when Willis was injured.

    Not worried.

  12. cags777 says: Jul 26, 2014 3:01 PM

    Since the 49ers entertained talks about trading Harbaugh to the Browns, I have no doubt they’ll do anything in their power send him packing by season’s end. Feel bad for 49ers fans.

  13. dirtysouthniner says: Jul 26, 2014 3:04 PM

    Eagles,saints,packers,bears are better? Well …..ok than

  14. sjsuguy says: Jul 26, 2014 3:04 PM

    I went to the levi stadium open house yesterday. That place is amazing. The seats are really close to the field.

  15. sonoco says: Jul 26, 2014 3:42 PM

    The Niners will be back in the final four . . . AGAIN . . . at a minimum.

  16. ydousuk says: Jul 26, 2014 3:47 PM

    It’s an exciting time to be a Niner Faithful,
    ——————————————-

    You said that the last three years…and how has that worked for you?

    Go Hawks!

  17. fballguy says: Jul 26, 2014 4:55 PM

    Can’t wait to see what the Rams do to these guys.

  18. humb0lt says: Jul 26, 2014 5:06 PM

    Here’s my take on the 49ers:

    Kaepernick: self-absorbed knucklehead who can’t read a defense, locks in one receiver. Can burn you with his legs, but if he relies on that too much he we will be the next 49er to be carted off the field with a blown-up knee.

    Gore: Old. Age 31 with 2,200 NFL carries.
    Kendall Hunter: Injured.
    LaMichael James: 184 yards in two seasons
    Carlos Hyde: Who? Big & slow
    Marcus Lattimore: Injured

    Crabtree: Good, but not great. Slow. Primadonna knucklehead like his QB. Can’t beat Richard Sherman when it counts.
    Stevie Johnson: Good, not great. Slow.
    Anquan Boldin: Formerly a stud, but old. Slow. The 49ers might have the slowest WRs in the league.

    Vernon Davis: Me first player on the downside of his career.

    Navarro Bowan: Injured

    Aldon Smith: Knucklehead who can’t stay out of trouble. Looking at a suspension.

    Secondary: It sucks.

  19. aa1829 says: Jul 26, 2014 5:11 PM

    I just can’t warm up to Harbaugh. He is not a likable human being. I would not trade McCarthy for Harbaugh, doesn’t matter who is the better coach.

  20. braceyourselffor12 says: Jul 26, 2014 5:11 PM

    ydousuk says: Jul 26, 2014 3:47 PM

    It’s an exciting time to be a Niner Faithful,
    ——————————————-

    You said that the last three years…and how has that worked for you?

    Go Hawks!

    ————————————————————–

    Since you just started watching football from soccer I’ll explain how it works. A true fan supports their team whether they win or lose. Again I know this is a hard concept to grasp since Seattle is full of bandwagoners and why the NBA left and NHL refuses to set up shop.

    For the majority of the decade the Niners were one of the worst teams in the worst division in the League. The same time you and your fellow posers claim to have owned the NFC West. Regardless every Niner game was sold out, we continued to support our team.

    Now they are back in their dominant form and being as most of us grew up during the dynasty years it feels good to see them win again. You’re not going to win the Super Bowl every year but so long as your team is competitive then it’s exciting football.

    You punks in the north west are like kids who just got laid for the first team thinking you’re top dog. Let me tell you something pal, the only people who brag so much are the losers who’ve never gotten it in the first place.

  21. chicagotomahawk says: Jul 26, 2014 5:19 PM

    I have a question, where were all these 9er fans before 2012?

    Signed, someone who lived in the bay before Kaep and Harbaugh took over

  22. noffy32 says: Jul 26, 2014 5:26 PM

    Top question. Will Florio ever give the Niners their props they deserve? Doubt it.

  23. southpaw79 says: Jul 26, 2014 5:27 PM

    @Chicagotomahawk

    Everywhere. If you did not see support for the Niners back with Singletary, Nolan, and even Erickson then you were purposely turning a blind eye.

    Signed, someone who lived in the bay before Kaep and Harbaugh…. hell even before their first superbowl.

  24. southpaw79 says: Jul 26, 2014 5:32 PM

    @humbolt,

    Your thoughts then on how the Niners have been to 3 straight NFC championship games? There is a difference between getting bested by another top tier team in a one game elimination format and being a crappy team, you do understand that, right? The way you describe the Niners, every team that lost to them should be humiliated…. that includes the World Champion Seahawks.

  25. omeimontis says: Jul 26, 2014 5:41 PM

    Tumultuous? Hardly. These are all in the imagination of the underworked and overpaid local press corp. Several of them apparently had nothing to write about so they invented stories about how Harbaugh and Baalke hated each other’s guts, that Harbaugh’s act was wearing thin inside the locker room and that the Niners will part company with both Harbaugh and Aldon Smith before the 2014 season began. Days after the rumors surfaced, they were debunked by Baalke, Harbaugh and the newly re-signed Anquan Boldin. Harbaugh is still the coach, and Aldon Smith’s 2015 fifth year option has been picked up by the Niners.

  26. norcalhawklover says: Jul 26, 2014 5:44 PM

    So they have an important player holding out, and the injuries have already started. Bowman will not be available until mid season, and A Smith is facing a suspension. That must mean that they are out of the running, and we can dismiss the 49ers.

    Oh wait. They are still a quality team, and have as much chance of winning it all as the Seahawks. I will tell the truth, rather than spew the crap that comes from the 9er faithful who feel the need to make negative comments about every Seahawk related article.

    If my Seahawks do not make it to the Super Bowl, I hope the 49ers go and win it all. I can respect others, while remaining true to my team. Too bad that so many others cannot.

  27. infectorman says: Jul 26, 2014 5:45 PM

    Question # 6:

    Why is SF ownership conspiring to defraud potential workers comp recipients by bribing a corrupt Senator to pass legislation highly favorable to NFL owners.

    Question 6a:
    How will Roger sweep it all under the rug?

  28. omeimontis says: Jul 26, 2014 6:03 PM

    Answers:
    1. Harbaugh is the best coach the Niners have since George Seifert. It would be a mistake not to pay him to get him to stay.
    2. Too early to tell, but Kap will work his butt off to do his best, and that is all anyone can ask for
    3. Most likely Aldon Smith has learned his lesson so yes he will
    4. Gore does not have to carry the load. The passing game is improved and the Niners will be a balanced offense.
    5. Crab has been Kap’s most favorite receiver, and he has the best ability to catch Kap’s fastball, so Crab will most likely be the number 1 target.

  29. isaidjoemontegna says: Jul 26, 2014 6:14 PM

    osiris33 says:
    Jul 26, 2014 2:10 PM
    Oh I see, it was a Kaepernick “misfire” that gave the Seahawks the win. It wasn’t that Richard Sherman had Crabtree covered like blanket and made a huge play.

    Nah, it couldn’t be THAT…

    —————————————-

    Well, it was either a misfire (an under thrown pass, which it was) and Sherman made an easy pick on a crappy throw. Or…Sherman made an amazing play on an amazing throw. Can’t be both. It’s called deductive reasoning, my friend. It’s cool. You guys are new at this whole thing.

  30. Ferdinand says: Jul 26, 2014 6:14 PM

    I’d tell Harbaugh, “We will give serious thought to paying you commensurate to a Superbowl winner when you start acting like a grownup.”

  31. omeimontis says: Jul 26, 2014 6:14 PM

    People seem to have forgotten that Marshawn Lynch pleaded guilty to reckless driving, and he was charged with DUI, same charge as Aldon Smith. So, if Smith is suspended x number of games, then so should Lynch. Otherwise the NFL is guilty of selective enforcement.

  32. fballguy says: Jul 26, 2014 7:23 PM

    Niners likely miss the playoffs this season. Too much turmoil surrounding that team.

    Harbaugh disgruntled. Players disgruntled. Players hurt. Players melting down in airports.

    They’re in for a tough year.

    Can’t wait.

  33. rockinchox says: Jul 26, 2014 8:45 PM

    Love my Hawks,but dang the 9rs scare me every time we play. It’s hard for me to talk smack to a team that worries me this much. So I don’t , you gotta give respect where it’s due and these are two of the top teams in the league. Bar none.
    Good Luck , I just hope my guys are one game better again this year.

  34. coachglove says: Jul 26, 2014 9:27 PM

    Not having the Bowman injury (the replacements can fill in fine for a game or 2, but not 7-10…either that or you’re suggesting Bowman wasn’t a legit DPOY candidate before his injury, which is a RIDICULOUS statement) on this list of top 5 is silly. That will be a HUGE hole in that defense and a team like the Seahawks is built to exploit that hole. Much bigger question than Gore. The NFL market just told the world what they think of RB’s this off-season.

  35. jake0831 says: Jul 26, 2014 9:49 PM

    @ isaidjoemontegna

    Do Not try to rewrite history. Sherman did NOT make a pick at the end of the championship game. He “…deflected the ball right to Malcolm Smith for a game-sealing interception.”

    Somehow I believe that these three years of frustration will play itself out in the 9ers favor in a new stadium this year. If not, the Super Bowl in 2016 (#50) will be played there and would be some sort of serendipity for the 9ers winning in their Quest for Six at that time.

    And for all the naysayers: I love watching Kaepernick play even when I am disappointed when they lose. The guy is exciting to watch every time he takes a snap. The Seahawks may be a great team but Wilson is a snooze-fest.

  36. winninaintsinnin says: Jul 27, 2014 12:02 PM

    Two major concerns if I’m a Niners fan.

    1. Harbaugh inherited a talented team but drafts haven’t seemed to build on that. That eventually could cost them.

    2. Team tried to trade Harbaugh. That does not point towards a healthy relationship.

    Enjoy your team while you can.

  37. inwilsonwetrust says: Jul 27, 2014 12:20 PM

    I agree. Kaepernick is exciting to watch. I especially enjoy watching his 4th quarter meltdowns when he either goes color blind or just gets scared and tosses the ball to the other team.

  38. axespray says: Jul 27, 2014 12:22 PM

    niners… lol, they had their window.

  39. rainponcho87 says: Jul 27, 2014 4:35 PM

    Harbaugh is a volatile guy but a good coach. I really doubt he goes to a new team. He has a very, very good situation in SF. He has been living on the Peninsula for many years. His family is happy there. The team is solid and they have a brand new state-of-the-art stadium.

    Even so, if he left, I have no doubt that Jed York would find a great replacement.

  40. thebirdofprey2 says: Jul 28, 2014 12:48 AM

    chicagotomahawk says: Jul 26, 2014 5:19 PM

    I have a question, where were all these 9er fans before 2012?

    Signed, someone who lived in the bay before Kaep and Harbaugh took over

    ——————————————-

    Up until that time the 49ers was the bottom of the NFC West 10 years running and cheering for either Chargers or Raiders. Somehow when they are getting smacked around in football talks they still bring up championship in the early 90’s.

  41. senoreno says: Jul 28, 2014 1:19 AM

    Harbaugh isn’t going anywhere..and also besides the 2012 draft..niners have done pretty well

  42. RegisHawk says: Jul 28, 2014 5:54 AM

    1 This is his last year. After choking once again, Baalke will point out to Jed York that Harbs has had good players since stepping into the job and has yet to seal the deal, as opposed to the Seahawks’ having been rebuilt from scratch and winning the Super Bowl.

    2 Kaepernick got the only deal he could; it allows the team to drop him with no penalties if they find something better, either in the draft or Free Agency.

    3 No. I suspect the NFL life is what puts Smith over the top when coping. As long as he stays in the NFL, he will be an a very high risk to fall back into addiction.

    4 Not much longer. I doubt he’ll finish this year out unless they drastically curtail his carries, which doesn’t seem likely at the rate they’re going through injured RBs right now.

    5 It doesn’t matter.

  43. govtminion says: Jul 28, 2014 8:17 AM

    I think I’d like Harbaugh better as a coach if he acted like he’s been here before and just let the game progress. Its one thing for a coach to argue a call on the field, sometimes even in an animated style- we see it from coaches across the league in Coughlin, Fox, Reid, Payton, etc… but Harbaugh just loses his mind over EVERY CALL on the field.

    Whether it’s a measurement call, a video review of a touchdown, a penalty called on either team, he’s flinging things, screaming, getting in official’s faces… every damn time. It’s like watching a toddler throw a tantrum, over and over. And it makes him very, VERY unlikeable. Being in that locker room must be a nightmare.

  44. whatsdatyouwhiner says: Jul 28, 2014 8:21 AM

    Over rated team that lives on trophies of past niner players/team of the old. Before this generation of players/team talks trophies, they should win one first.

  45. jvibottomline says: Jul 28, 2014 9:55 PM

    Most dominate franchise in professional sports, the San Francisco 49ers, every guy wants to be one, every woman wants to sleep with one!

  46. rooster5150 says: Jul 29, 2014 11:19 AM

    Yeah, obviously a dreamer? Where were you bandwagon fans during the Alex Smith years?

    When you win 27 championships you can make that claim like the Yankees. Your team isn’t even as dominant as the Patriots just since Brady has been there let alone of all time! What a dooshie!

  47. unislaya says: Jul 30, 2014 12:58 AM

    So funny to hear the banter of a 1-AND-DONE SB winner… smh

    “my seahawks” LOL – Until last season, you could easily purchase tickets on game day (or any day before it) to every seahawk game – usually at less than face value. Hawk fans are a bunch of frauds. As soon as the reality of the SB hangover sets in (game 3), the entire city will be back on the storms nuts, or the “sounders pitch” and good old chete carroll will have to turn back to the pages of Holmgren and start piping in crowd noise.

    7-9 sound familiar?

    #leastmode (and your bell cow will play for the Raiders this season) hahahahahah

  48. senoreno says: Jul 31, 2014 3:01 AM

    Even after a championship, a pedhawk can’t hide his inferiority complex..LOL..Lay off the “adderall.” It’s making you guys all emotional and whiny..

    #nocleanringsin50yrs
    #GoNiners!
    #faithfultilltheend
    #Re-ped

  49. 64post says: Aug 11, 2014 2:28 AM

    humb0lt says:
    Jul 26, 2014 2:16 PM
    There are at least five teams in the NFC better than the 49ers:

    Seahawks
    Saints
    Eagles
    Bears
    Packers

    The Packers have lost 4 straight to SF including 2 playoff games and they have NO answer for the 49ers except cheap shots out of bounds (talking to you Clay Boy)

    The Seahaks have lost 5 straight in SF and without their amplified crowd noise are an average road team.

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