While the 49ers’ biggest splash this offseason was taking Trey Lance in the NFL Draft, the offensive line was the most notable and wholesome adjustment.
The San Francisco 49ers‘ 2021 campaign likely won’t be defined or even largely influenced by their first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
Lance is expected to sit and develop behind the presumed starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, for at least the upcoming season. And while there’s always room for Lance to potentially pull out the shocker and start earlier than anticipated, Jimmy G is likely going to be the one under center by the time Week 1 rolls around.
For the most part, the Niners offensive and defensive starting lineups won’t look too much different than they did a year ago. There were some big-ticket free-agent pickups, yes, but the bulk of San Francisco’s eight-player draft class are tabbed for depth and developmental roles right away.
Not necessarily starters.
As such, if anyone is going to point out the unit that saw the biggest changes in terms of possible personnel turnover, it would be the offensive line. And the O-line’s hopeful improvement will be what head coach Kyle Shanahan’s 2021 campaign hinges upon.
49ers needed offensive line help in a big way
Injuries played a massive role last season. There’s no getting around that. The biggest, of course, was the void at center in the wake of the veteran, Weston Richburg, missing all of 2020 after suffering a serious knee injury late the previous year.
That created a revolving door, which had ripple effects at both guard spots. And by default, probably impacted right tackle Mike McGlinchey’s game, too.
Richburg is expected to retire, and the 49ers are likely to wait until after the June 1 deadline to make any sort of roster transaction here, which ultimately led to one of the numerous O-line changes for the team during the offseason.
Major 49ers O-line moves this offseason
The biggest headline for the Niners within this unit was re-signing perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, of course, giving him a record-setting six-year deal worth $23 million annually, per Over the Cap.
Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Yes.
But perhaps the more important move was for San Francisco to bring in a viable replacement for Richburg, inking former Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack on a three-year, $14.85 million contract.
Other notable offseason moves included:
- Signing ERFA Daniel Brunskill to a one-year contract
- Signing UFA Tom Compton to a one-year contract
- Selecting OL Aaron Banks in Round 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft
- Selecting OL Jaylon Moore in Round 5 of the 2021 NFL Draft
- Picking up Mike McGlinchey’s fully guaranteed fifth-year option for 2022
49ers O-line storylines to watch during training camp, into regular season
The 49ers re-signing Williams ultimately saved them from having to use one of their high-profile draft picks on a starting-caliber tackle, although Banks was drafted early enough to warrant serious consideration as a starting guard.
The idea probably is for Banks to emerge as a starter on the right side, thereby pushing Brunskill back into his uber-reserve role where he had plenty of success in 2019. And one might assume, given the Niners haven’t onboarded any backups for Mack yet, Brunskill would be tabbed as the reserve center, too.
Banks and Brunskill will likely compete for this role in camp, although let’s go ahead and give the edge to Banks based on his draft status.
On top of that, one might hope for some improvement from McGlinchey, particularly in pass protection, now that he gets to align next to a former teammate at Notre Dame, Banks.
Still, a full two-fifths turnover, as far as starters are concerned, is significant. Yet the real wonderment will be with the depth spots behind the presumed starters of Williams, Banks, Mack, McGlinchey and left guard Laken Tomlinson.
Brunskill is likely safe. But other depth linemen — Compton, Moore, Shon Coleman, Justin Skule, Colton McKivitz and others — enter training camp with their jobs very much up in the air. Adding Moore suggested head coach Kyle Shanahan wasn’t at all happy with his O-line depth, which was tested to the extreme in 2021, and an infusion of new talent obviously shakes things up here.
Assuming San Francisco keeps eight linemen on its 53-man roster this season, at least two of those reserve names listed will be gone by the time Week 1 rolls around.
Yet the biggest impact, and what will ultimately determine the success of the 49ers offseason, will be just how well this group plays as a whole, and that’ll likely impact just how far the Niners make it towards a deep playoff run.