This is the fifth installment of a 10-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.
-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.
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.
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.”