The San Francisco 49ers season didn't extend into January and postseason play, which made for an easy formulation of New Year's resolutions during Monday's checkout routine.
"Winning is definitely a New Year's resolution," said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. "Nothing but hard work and commitment for next year and if we all commit to being great and come out with an undeniable attitude and just a refuse to lose mentality, we'll be good to go. I think in 2008 there is no reason we can't be one of the best teams."
Making that jump will take some deep reflection into what went wrong in 2007, a year the 49ers entered expecting to win.
"The season was a very tough one, a disappointment, especially bringing in new guys and coming off a strong finish in 2006," said running back Frank Gore. "We thought we were going to build and it seemed like we took a step back. I still think we have the right players in the locker room who can get it done. This off-season we have to look at our mistakes from the whole year and try our best to fix them. If we do that, we can make a big change around here in 2008."
Most of the examination will come on offense. The unit finished dead last in the NFL, not helped any by the early loss of starting quarterback Alex Smith and the use of four quarterbacks by season's end.
"I think definitely for the whole team it was a frustrating year, and for me especially, only playing limited games and not getting out of them what you wanted out of them," said Smith. "You go from playing every snap last year to this year of having the injuries and dealing with that, and not really playing much or winning games, and that's very, very frustrating. I'm looking to put it behind me and get ready for next year and to this team starting over."
When the team does start over in 2008, it won't be the exact same group of guys. Defensive lineman Bryant Young is set to retire while several other players will likely test the free agent market.
"Every year, the last game of the season will probably be the last time this team plays together," said cornerback Nate Clements. "That's just the nature of the business. Some of us will be moving on, B.Y. is retiring - again, that's just the nature of this business."
With another solid year from Young and strong play out of acquisitions like Clements, the defense showed marked improvement this past season, but there was some disappointment on that side of the ball too.
"We just have to play more consistent," said Clements. "You've got to play consistent on every down and every week."
Added Banta-Cain, "We saw flashes of what this team can do, but we've got to maintain that week in and week out."
Although players exited with plenty of regrets about the 2007 season, being part of it wasn't one of them for Clements or Banta-Cain.
Asked about thinking he was coming to join a playoff bound team and instead finishing 5-11 Clements responded, "That's football, anybody can win on any given Sunday. The decision I made was the best decision for me and my family, so there are no regrets or anything like that. It's just the NFL."
And in the NFL these days, teams have made significant turnarounds from year to year.
"This is definitely a tough time of the year because you want to go to the playoffs and you are watching other teams play instead, but we learned a lot from this year and we definitely have a lot to look forward to," insisted Banta Cain. "The talent is here, we've got all the pieces. I think this off-season there will be some free agent acquisitions and some changes made, but they'll all be for the better. We'll build this off-season and in 2008, the goal is all about winning."
Free Agent Update
Some of the 49ers who will be free agents as of February 29th include QB Shaun Hill, G Justin Smiley, and DT Isaac Sopoaga
All three discussed their future before checking out on Monday.
"I like coach Nolan and I hope that I can be back here," said Smiley. "I think Scot McCloughan is going to do a great job and I think Dr. York is going to get it right. And I'd love to be part of it. I'd like to be a lifelong Niner - I don't really want to go anywhere else. But we'll see what happens. I'm really hoping for it."
The team negotiated with Smiley last season but the veteran guard opted to play out the final year of his contract and see what the free agent market would be like for a starting guard. His season came to an end after the Atlanta game when he dislocated his shoulder and tore his labrum.
"I'm realistic that my shoulder does create some leverage for teams," said Smiley who is still rehabbing from surgery to repair the damage. "It might bring my market value down. I'm at peace with that. This year started off rocky, and kind of inconsistent for me. I felt like the last couple of games, I came on and got back to the level I was playing at last year. I think they saw that in me too."
Hill and Sopoaga also hope to be back, although neither of them seemed to have given free agency much thought.
"To be honest, I have no idea what the rules are, I don't know when it starts, I don't know anything," said Hill. "I have to talk to my agent about all that stuff. I can honestly tell you I haven't thought one bit about it before day when the season ended. I still have a lot to learn about that whole process, but I think everything will turn out well."
Hill was made an offer earlier in the season, one he declined because he said it's never been his goal to just be a number three quarterback. Things have changed since for Hill, who after leading his team to wins in his only two NFL starts, made a strong case for the right to compete for a starting spot.
"Obviously I want to be back here," said Hill. "I love the locker room. I love the coaching staff and the whole organization and support staff. I've really enjoyed my time out here, felt right at home and would like to continue that."
Sopoaga echoed Hill's desire to stay with the organization.
"I would love to be back here with the 49ers," said Sopoaga who is coming off his best year in the pros. "I love it out here, and it's easy for my family to get on a plane (from American Samoa) and fly here to see me play."
Head coach Mike Nolan was scheduled originally to have a 2PM press conference on Monday. That was moved to 4PM and then eventually cancelled as Nolan spent the afternoon in meetings with team owner John York and his son Jed.