The 49ers agreed to restructure Alex Mack’s contract heading into 2022, but this signals a likely retirement from the veteran Pro Bowl center.
Editor’s update: Alex Mack indeed is retiring, according to a report from Mike Silver after this article was initially published.
Do you want the good news or bad news first?
Well, the good news with the San Francisco 49ers reworking veteran center Alex Mack‘s current contract is that it frees up a substantial amount of cap space for a Niners team that had less than $1 million in available space and couldn’t even sign its rookie NFL Draft class from 2022.
The bad news? Well, it seems as if Mack is poised to retire.
ESPN’s Field Yates reported the news on Thursday, breaking down how San Francisco would generate $4 million in cap space by doing this. Previously, according to Over the Cap, Mack was going to cost the 49ers up to and over $2.3 million in each of the next two seasons.
However, as NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo pointed out in response to Yates’ news, Mack isn’t doing this as a “good faith” gesture, per se, but rather as a procedural move in advance of a likely retirement:
This jives with the buzz and speculation the 36-year-old Mack would retire this offseason. While no official announcement has been made, the Niners probably have a much closer insight into whatever the seven-time Pro Bowler is about to decide.
Perhaps they’ve made contingency plans, too.
49ers options to replace a would-be retiring Alex Mack
Again, this shouldn’t be a shocker to head coach Kyle Shanahan and San Francisco’s front office. Many of the team’s press conferences have alluded to letting Mack make his decision public knowledge when the time comes.
The 49ers elected not to grab a high-profile free-agent center during the offseason, but they did make some notable moves both during and after the 2022 draft, particularly spending two picks on linemen, Spencer Burford and Nick Zakelj, while also grabbing two undrafted free agents in Dohnovan West and Jason Poe. The latter two could have easily been drafted, too, but slipped through to the Niners as UDFAs.
However, Shanahan has long preferred veterans in this role, which also explains why Mack was a high-priority free-agent target just over a year ago at this time.
If that’s the case, San Francisco would likely promote backup center Jake Brendel, who joined the squad as a free agent in 2020 but didn’t play that year because of the pandemic, into a starter’s role this season.
Brendel has only three regular-season starts under his belt since joining the NFL in 2016, though.
The 49ers could also bump presumed starting right guard Daniel Brunskill over to center, which is something the versatile lineman did back in 2020. Yet that would open up another hole at right guard, so it’s not exactly an ideal scenario either.
Of course, the Niners could work to engineer some other kind of move to help plug the gap, too.
Mack’s retirement would likely have to go official beforehand, though, but it’s probable that’s the case in the next couple of days if not sooner.