Jake Brendel could have helped the 49ers last season but elected to opt out. Amid more O-line changes in 2021, his roster chances appear slim.
But he did after signing a one-year, $735,000 contract with the Niners in 2020.
In the wake of now-retired center Weston Richburg’s season-ending injury late in 2019, San Francisco was forced to plug in a variety of other centers both that year and throughout last season. Ben Garland, Hroniss Grasu and even right guard Daniel Brunskill all saw time at center, and the results were far from ideal.
Maybe Brendel could have helped. He is, after all, a natural center whereas Brunskill is better suited to play snaps without handling the ball.
That said, Brendel was an undrafted free-agent addition of the Dallas Cowboys out of UCLA for a reason, and he’s been a journeyman backup for the bulk of his career anyway.
Heading into 2021, particularly after the 49ers signed veteran Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, Brendel’s chances of hanging around just took a major hit.
Should he stay, Brendel will have to improve quite a bit and stand out among the rest of the interior offensive line backups.
Why Jake Brendel improves with 49ers in 2021
Brendel has only started three games during his NFL career, and they all came back in 2018 with the Miami Dolphins.
During that stretch, however, he posted a respectable 77.4 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, and only one of those three starts — Week 13 against the Buffalo Bills — saw a lowly run-blocking performance that ultimately set his grade in that category fall to 58.8.
At 28 years old, it’s not likely Brendel suddenly shows a ton of maturation and improvement. Yet he’s essentially the only true center backing up Mack, whereas the bulk of other linemen are more natural guards or tackles.
Perhaps that works in Brendel’s favor, and he winds up seeing increased reps in training camp.
Why Jake Brendel regresses with 49ers in 2021
Being buried on the depth chart already works against Brendel heading deeper into summer, and offseason additions of fellow interior linemen like Mack, Aaron Banks and Jaylon Moore further hinder Brendel’s chances of working with the backup second-team unit during offseason workouts.
Plus, on top of all that, Brendel’s last regular-season snaps came in 2018 before being shelved on injured reserve that year with a calf injury, and the last time he even played an NFL game was in 2019 with the Denver Broncos during the preseason.
Having nearly two years fully eclipsed since seeing the field doesn’t work in his favor here, and the Niners don’t have to be particularly invested in him.
Chances of making the 49ers’ 53-man roster
About the only thing working in Brendel’s favor, at least as far as San Francisco’s roster is concerned, is the fact he’s the only natural center to potentially back up Mack this season.
Mack being 35 years old could make that an important element here.
That said, the 49ers could easily be looking at Brunskill to back Mack up in 2021, hoping the former stays fully healthy like he’s done for the bulk of his career and leaving Brunskill to merely be an uber-reserve kind of player with two or three other backups to support both guard and tackle spots.
The Niners wouldn’t owe any dead money to Brendel if they were to move on from him after the terms of his contract last year bump over to 2021.
So, at least from that vantage point, there’s no guarantees Brendel sticks around, both financially and in terms of his value to the 53-man roster.
Brendel is squarely on the bubble right now, easily on the weaker end. It’s likely he’ll see a handful of snaps late in the first two preseason games and potentially a good deal more in the third and final exhibition bout, likely then seeking other employment elsewhere by the time the Week 1 roster is announced.