While Pro Bowl center Alex Mack retiring came as something of a shock to 49ers fans, the front office had to be prepared for this, right? Right?
Last week, speculation and rumor of the “worst” kind came true for the San Francisco 49ers, as they watched Pro Bowl center Alex Mack call it a career, retiring at 36 years old following his lone season donning the red and gold.
Granted, the Niners immediately benefited from the retirement, using the freed-up cap space to finally sign the remainder of their rookie 2022 NFL Draft class.
But in the long run, Mack’s departure creates a significant void in the square center of the offensive line.
San Francisco had to be aware of this possibility, perhaps even considering it a likelihood, right?
49ers hinted they were aware Alex Mack would retire
During the opening week of 49ers organized team activities, head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to reporters about Mack’s imminent future, and the following conversation between the coach and a member of the media speaks volumes:
"Reporter: Have you spoken with C Alex Mack?Shanahan: I’ve talked to him here and there. I’ve got a good idea. I’ve been in touch with him throughout the offseason, through his wedding, through his honeymoon. He’s in some other country right now, but I’ve got a pretty good idea of what he’s doing.Reporter: What’s that?Shanahan: Same as last time, I’m going to leave that up to Alex, but I’ve got a pretty good idea. I think you guys do too."
This echoed statements made by general manager John Lynch shortly after the draft in which he pointed out he wasn’t going to announce anything Mack was intending to do.
As such, those are signs the Niners were well aware Mack probably wasn’t returning long before the announcement went public.
Do the 49ers have a contingency plan, or did they completely misjudge Alex Mack situation?
San Francisco did use two of its nine draft picks on offensive linemen, grabbing Spencer Burford in Round 4 and Nick Zakelj in Round 6. But neither of those two are pure centers, and the only other notable offseason transaction to address the would-be shortage was to ink undrafted rookie Dohnovan West out of Arizona State.
Granted, West was a very draftable player and could have been selected as early as Round 3, but Shanahan has rarely preferred rookies or even second-year players to occupy this crucial spot on the O-line.
As such, the 49ers’ plan appears to be either letting one of those three rookies compete for Mack’s starting job, inserting a perennial backup like Jake Brendel or Keaton Sutherland into the role or sliding right guard Daniel Brunskill over one spot, subsequently opening up another void at guard.
One of two things to note here.
Either the Niners liked one of these contingency options despite it not exactly being a fan-favorite option, following the notion that Shanahan is “smarter than everyone else” here, or San Francisco completely botched the handling of Mack’s immediate future all offseason.
From the 49ers’ vantage point, and unless there’s some other transaction yet to take place, one can only hope it’s the former.