It took him a while to get here, and 49ers center Jake Brendel does not envision himself going back to the days when he struggled annually to find his way onto a 53-man roster.
“It’s been an uphill battle, starting from me being undrafted to a few injuries early in my career,” Brendel told NBC Sports Bay Area at the conclusion of the 49ers’ season.
“Those things are in the past. I truthfully feel like my career is just starting right now.”
Brendel, 30, is coming off a season in which he started more than three games for the first time in his career. It has been a long journey after entering the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 as an undrafted rookie from UCLA.
He opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns and uncertainty amid COVID-19. He felt his career might be over.
However, he won his way back onto the 49ers’ roster in 2021 as a backup. And Brendel moved into the starting role with the 49ers after Alex Mack’s offseason retirement.
Brendel allowed just one sack and three hits in 20 games, including the postseason.
And, now, he is scheduled to be a free agent in mid-March -- unless the 49ers first sign him to an extension to keep him off the open market.
Did Brendel feel as if he proved himself as a productive NFL starter?
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” he answered. “The collective shows that, but also the individual numbers were on par, if not better, than half of the league. I just feel it’s something that’s going to be advantageous in free agency.
“I can definitely build off of and I feel there are some promising stuff on film that other teams are going to see how well I can play when I get the opportunity.”
Brendel was named the winner of the Bobb McKittrick Award as the 49ers offensive lineman who best represents the courage, intensity and sacrifice displayed by McKittrick during his 21 years as the team’s offensive line coach.
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Brendel, who became a dad on Jan. 8, made it clear he wishes to remain with the 49ers to work under offensive line coach Chris Foerster. But he also could have his one opportunity to attain some financial security.
“This place is special,” Brendel said. “Kyle Shanahan’s offense is special. Coach Foerster is a guy I want to be around in the future, but it’s got to make sense financially and professionally for my family.”