49ers

49ers roster analysis: Offensive line in good shape for immediate future

49ers roster analysis: Offensive line in good shape for immediate future

This is the fifth installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

Today, a look at the 49ers’ offensive line.

Under contract (signed through)

-Joe Staley (2021)
-Mike McGlinchey (2021)
-Weston Richburg (2022)
-Laken Tomlinson (2021)
-Mike Person (2021)
-Justin Skule (2022)
-Ross Reynolds (2021)
-Kofi Amichia (2021)
-Jaryd Jones-Smith (2021)
-Jake Brendel (2020)
-Leonard Wester (2020)

Staley signed a two-year extension with the 49ers in June to push his contract through the 2021 season. He is at the stage of his career – and his life – that he must evaluate after every season whether he wants to continue to play football. He missed nine regular-season games due to injuries, but Staley played at a high level at the end of the regular season and throughout the postseason.

Richburg, who finished the season on injured reserve with a torn patellar tendon, restructured his contract late in the season to save the 49ers approximately $4.5 million in cap space for 2020.

Expiring contracts

-Ben Garland (UFA)
-Shon Coleman (UFA)
-Daniel Brunskill (EFA)
-Andrew Lauderdale (EFA)

Garland should be a low-cost option to return to the team as an insurance policy behind Richburg. He held his own for the final month of the regular season and into the playoffs as the starting center.

Coleman, acquired from the Cleveland Browns in an August 2018 trade, entered training camp as the swing tackle. He sustained a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in the first preseason game and went on season-ending injured reserve. He could be back on a minimum-level contract.

Brunskill, who has no outside negotiating rights as an exclusive-rights free agent, will certainly be back on the team in 2020.

What needs to happen

If everything remains the same, the 49ers are in good shape with the offensive line and can look to devote resources in other directions. All of their starters -- and seven of their top eight -- remain under club control for the upcoming season. But the 49ers can add depth and begin preparing for the future, too.

Staley continues to be the most important piece of the line. He is signed for two more seasons, and the 49ers would love for him to continue to play at a high level through the completion of his contract. But the 49ers have to keep an eye toward the future and prepare for the time when Staley is no longer on the team.

Richburg is returning from a severe knee injury. He again will miss the offseason program but expects to be ready for training camp, which opens in late-July.

It never is a bad idea to bring in young players who have a chance to compete for spots or, at least, develop for the future. But the offensive line did an outstanding job in run-blocking and pass protection for an offense that ranked second in the NFL at 29.9 points per game and fourth at 381.1 yards per game.

[RELATED: Signing George Kittle to new contract top focus]

Expectations

The expectation: Staley and McGlinchey at the tackle positions; Richburg at center; Tomlinson and Person at the guard spots.

The wild card is Brunskill. Wherever the 49ers put him, he stepped in and did a fine job. He saw significant time at right tackle, left tackle and right guard while starting seven games. He started the final two games of the regular season at right guard when Person was out with a neck condition. Offensive line coach John Benton half-jokingly referred to Brunskill as the team MVP.

Brunskill has put himself in position to compete for a starting job with Person. If he is not a starter, Brunskill could take on a role as the sixth man on the offensive line. (He even saw some work in practices at center after Richburg’s injury.)

Skule, who replaced Staley for six snaps in the Super Bowl, proved he can be a competent backup. Garland and Coleman could also return to compete for backup roles.

The 49ers do not have many draft picks, and they do not appear to be inclined to use a valued pick on an offensive lineman. Shanahan believes the club does not need to do anything dramatic with the personnel on the line to cope with such dominant defensive tackles as Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald and Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs. Shanahan intimated a lot falls on the structure of the offense to scheme around such players.

“I don't care what guard you have in this league, when you have a guard one-on-one with a player like that,” Shanahan said. “It's about five at the most in this league that are like that. Those guys are real tough to handle. That's why you’ve got to be balanced and mix stuff up.”

How Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo earlier would've affected 49ers

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How Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo earlier would've affected 49ers

The New England Patriots' ideal Tom Brady successor is the franchise quarterback for Brady's childhood team.

The Patriots dealt Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick in 2017, to coach Bill Belichick's reported chagrin. He envisioned Garoppolo leading the Patriots into another decade of dominance, but owner Robert Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo and keep Brady, ESPN's Seth Wickersham reported in 2018.

Neither Brady nor Garoppolo will be in New England when the 2020 season starts, as the former signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (that's still weird to type and say out loud) as a free agent last month. The Patriots' QB depth chart currently consists of Jarrett Stidham and former 49er Brian Hoyer, which doesn't exactly inspire dynasty-building confidence.

That left NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry to wonder if the Patriots would've been better off trading Garoppolo sooner, when then-Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson stopped just shy of holding a neon sign over his head indicating he would trade the No. 12 pick before that year's draft for Garoppolo.

"On its face, making that move made sense for both sides," Perry wrote Friday. "The Browns were desperate for a competent quarterback. They were flush with picks. The Patriots, meanwhile, didn't have a first or a second-rounder that spring. For them, trading Garoppolo with a year left on his contract represented an opportunity to bolster their 2017 rookie haul with a top-15 talent."

The ripple effects, as Perry noted would've been far-reaching.

Jackson would've had his quarterback of the future, and thus the Browns might not have drafted Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall -- or even had the pick -- in 2018. The 49ers, who Kyle Shanahan admitted were focused enough on acquiring Kirk Cousins as a free agent in 2018 that they passed on Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft, then likely would've gone all-in on Cousins. The Patriots, then, could've drafted Deshaun Watson at No. 12 overall -- the same pick the Houston Texans used after acquiring it from the Browns -- as Brady's successor.

Thankfully for fans sick of New England winning titles, that didn't happen. It's also fair to wonder if any of the teams involved other than the Patriots actually were better off.

Acquiring Garoppolo could've saved Jackson's job in the short-term, but the Browns didn't become a team who failed to meet lofty expectations until after Jackson's firing. The 49ers, had they signed Cousins to the same contract he signed with the Vikings in 2018, would've had more flexibility in the first season but less in the second when compared to Garoppolo's extension. Neither Cousins nor Garoppolo is a clear upgrade over the other, and it's not like you can guarantee Cousins wouldn't have torn his ACL in 2018, either.

[RELATED: Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Hanks at all]

The Patriots can (and surely will) kick themselves all they want for not maximizing Garoppolo's trade return, but the Browns might not view a hypothetical Garoppolo deal with the same regret since that still would've meant not picking Watson.

The 49ers, assuming they still signed Cousins, surely would've been happy either way.

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

Tight end George Kittle already is the 49ers’ best fifth-round draft pick since 1991.

Kittle has picked up two Pro Bowl selections and a First-Team All-Pro award in his first three NFL seasons. The 49ers have not experienced that kind of success from a player in the fifth round since the selection of defensive back Merton Hanks, a four-time Pro Bowl player and starter on the 49ers’ Super Bowl champion team in the 1994 season.

Kittle, like Hanks, played college ball at Iowa.

“I think that’s a great symmetry,” Hanks said this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“The 49ers do pretty well with fifth-round draft picks from the University of Iowa. We tend to knock it out of the park a little bit there.”

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Hanks, who now works as senior associate commissioner of Conference USA, described himself as a first-round talent who fell in the draft due to a bad performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. He apparently scared teams with his reported time of 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Kittle had an impressive combine. He had all the measurables, but he did not post great numbers as a pass-catcher during his four-year college career. In 25 games over four seasons, Kittle caught just 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In his first 45 regular-season games with the 49ers, Kittle has 216 catches for 2,945 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I can’t say I’m surprised at all,” said Hanks, who referred to Iowa as “Tight Ends U."

[RELATED: How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance]

Iowa produced two tight ends in the first round of the 2019 draft: T.J. Hockenson, chosen No. 8 overall by the Detroit Lions, and Noah Fant, whom the Denver Broncos picked at No. 20.

“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz had NFL ties," Hanks added. "He understands the NFL game and what tight ends have to do to be successful, not only on the collegiate level, but the NFL level.”