NEW ORLEANS — The 49ers are only two years removed from a 6-10 season, but their passion to win a Super Bowl-and their long-term capability-is unmistakable.
Almost all their key players are poised to return for next season's bid to reach Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey.
“We keep taking baby steps,” wide receiver Michael Crabtree said late Sunday night. “Last year we got to the NFC Championship. This year, the Super Bowl. I feel we need to go on and win it.”
They made it to Super Bowl XLVII behind a team-oriented, well-rounded roster. Then the lights went out, literally, on their season as a power outage accompanied Sunday's 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“I'm not going to guarantee anything next year, but we'll fight back,” running back Frank Gore said.
As one of the longest tenured 49ers, Gore has been with the 49ers since 2005, and so has quarterback Alex Smith, who is expected to hit the trade market in the coming weeks rather than be retained as an $8.5 million backup to Colin Kaepernick.
Smith's status will dominate the offseason headlines while a few other players' futures hang in the balance.
The only starters unsigned for next season are free safety Dashon Goldson, wide receiver Randy Moss and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. Other notable free agents are return specialist Ted Ginn Jr., tight end Delanie Walker and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois.
“We've got a lot of free agents, so we'll see what happens after this year,” Walker said.
Goldson, a first-team AP All-Pro this season, is now allowed to sign a multiyear contract with the 49ers, who could not re-sign him during the season after failing to do so last summer while he was their franchise-tagged player. Goldson might be retained again with the franchise tag, albeit at a steeper salary of $7.45B million.