32 to 1: No. 3 Niners are still in position for a run at the Super Bowl
AUG 01, 2014 1:00a ET
Provided the tumultuous aspects of the offseason aren't a harbinger of things to come, San Francisco is in prime position to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIV as the No. 3 team in FOX Sports 1's preseason rankings.
The year started off on a down note with the conference championship game loss to archrival Seattle and got worse from there. A behind-the-scenes power struggle between coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke became public knowledge, leading to questions about whether the former will remain with San Francisco for the long haul.
On Thursday, 49ers CEO Jed York said that the two sides decided to table contract talks until after the season, but it is likely to still be a distraction if the 49ers get off to a slow start.
Starting tight end Vernon Davis and right guard Alex Boone later skipped offseason workouts and minicamp because of unhappiness with their current contracts. The pass defense looks shaky with a suspect cornerback group and top rusher Aldon Smith facing an NFL suspension for his off-field transgressions.
Other 49ers players continue to have brushes with the law. Cornerback Chris Culliver and center Adam Kilgore were the latest ones arrested (public intoxication charges against Kilgore were later dropped). And although he was exonerated of any wrongdoing, quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his name dragged through the mud after a woman accused him and two other NFL players in an incident at a Miami hotel.
These issues have sometimes overshadowed the positive strides San Francisco made on offense. Kaepernick, who signed a long-term contract extension in June, gets to work with his best pass-catching talent to date. Acquiring wide receiver Stevie Johnson from Buffalo for a 2014 fourth-round draft pick could prove the biggest steal of the offseason. Free-agent wideout Brandon Lloyd has opened eyes with strong offseason practices after spending a year out of football.
Plus, San Francisco's acclaimed ground attack got even stronger with 2014 second-round pick Carlos Hyde and the returning Marcus Lattimore (knee) backing up leading rusher Frank Gore despite the loss of Kendall Hunter to an ACL injury.
Those moves and a still-stingy defense could very well help the 49ers wrestle NFC West supremacy from Seattle.