From the moment the 49ers saw Trent Williams on the practice field last summer, it was easy to project him as the club’s No. 1 priority for the 2021 offseason.
Sure enough, Williams ranked as the No. 1 left tackle in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus. And Williams is likely to attract a new contract this month that is at least twice as lucrative as the 49ers’ next-best scheduled free agent.
If the 49ers are able to bring back Williams, it would be a big step toward fielding an improved offensive line for the upcoming season. And they would not even have to make any other changes to their line to accomplish that goal.
But it also does not mean the 49ers will continue to ride with the players already on their roster.
If — and that’s a big if — Williams comes back, the 49ers would be set at three positions on their offensive line.
The 49ers will return right tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Laken Tomlinson, for sure.
McGlinchey was graded at No. 21 overall among NFL tackles, according to PFF. Williams was No. 1. McGlinchey gained much higher marks as a run-blocker than in pass protection.
Tomlinson was the No. 10 ranked guard in the league, according to PFF.
The questions for the 49ers are at center and right guard. It is possible, however, the club believes the answers are already on the roster.
After all, as much as the 49ers’ line was a subject of criticism, PFF had the 49ers ranked as the No. 9 unit in the NFL. The 49ers’ offensive line was 25th in pressure rate allowed, but was the best run-blocking unit in the NFL by a wide margin.
Daniel Brunskill started the first eight games at right guard. He moved to center for the final eight games. If the 49ers decide to keep Brunskill at center, he would certainly be more comfortable and efficient in that role.
Weston Richburg’s career appears to be in jeopardy after significant surgeries on his knee, shoulder and hip. The 49ers are expected to part ways with Richburg this offseason.
One veteran option at center could be NFL All-Decade center Alex Mack, 35, who has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system.
Mack is coming off a season in which he posted his lowest PFF grade. He recently told NBC Sports Bay Area that playing for the 49ers would be an “enticing thing.” But he also said he was keeping all options open during free agency.
"We’ll see what teams are interested and what they have to offer and try to make a decision from there," Mack said.
The 49ers could be tempted to use the No. 12 overall pick -- or a later selection -- on an offensive lineman.
Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater could step into an immediate starting job at guard. Down the road, he could move to one of the tackle positions.
Or, the 49ers could also stand pat at right guard with Colton McKivitz, who started three games as a rookie.
McKivitz, a fifth-round pick in 2020, played tackle at West Virginia. He could be expected to see a significant bump in production in his second NFL season after his transition to guard.
Tackles Justin Skule and Shon Coleman, who opted out last season due to concerns over COVID-19, are under contract for 2021 for potential depth. Center Ben Garland and guard Tom Compton are among the team’s scheduled free agents.