The center position is one of two positions on the offensive line moving forward that has a considerable question mark. It is, however, less of a concern than the right guard position, which we'll look at on Saturday. 2010 saw a big injury at the position, considered the most stable on the offensive line coming into the season, but still came out as average to above-average when all was said and done. I would call that a success, so let's get to it and see what we've dealt with and what we're dealing with going forward.
Heitmann went down with an injury early in the season and was replaced by the man below . He had a strong year in 2009, and was billed as the best player on the line by a good portion of people coming into 2010. It's arguable that he has at times played at a Pro Bowl level, but this is the second major injury in his career. Problems with his leg are one thing, but reported complications with his neck can be a bad sign going forward.
Baas is the guy who stepped in after Heitmann went down. Baas had played center before, but never at the NFL level, and it showed early on. There was a point in week two where he shotgunned a snap way over Alex Smith's head and I began to seethe. I wasn't a fan of him in the first place, and as the snaps looked shakier and shakier, I figured the 49ers were going to be doomed and I was prepared to put a rather large piece of the blame on Baas, just because I could.
But he proved me wrong as the weeks came and went. He wasn't the fastest or the strongest out there, and his shotgun snap never quite looked as good as one would like, but he played much better than a guy who hadn't done it in years seemingly could. He wasn't dominant in the run game, but he was effective protecting the quarterback, and he set a good example for the young guards on either side of him. There were times when Baas was "the guy" to watch when a run broke for a big one or a pass rusher was completely shut down, and that's a huge difference in
When all was said and done, we had quite the respectable performance from Baas. Not up to par with Heitmann the previous year, but a lot better than anybody here would have guessed.
After the jump, we look ahead at the 2011 free agents for the position and of course, the 2011 NFL draft ...
The ideal situation is that Eric Heitmann (signed for another season) comes back fully recovered, and plays at the level he's played essentially his entire career. He is very smart, can learn anything he needs to from the new offensive staff, and is just a good player. However, nobody really knows the extent of his injuries, especially pertaining to his neck. He's also expected to make $1.95 million in 2011, not a huge number, but maybe too much for the 49ers if he's not guaranteed to go. Even without the injuries, it could be wise to go younger at the position, if only a little bit with Baas.
David Baas has been targeted as somebody the 49ers were actively looking to re-sign, and that's the only way he'll be back in 2011. They do have the option of the franchise tag, but that would be paying Baas in the neighborhood of $10 million and that's far too much for a center.
Unless he is too hurt to even play in 2011, however, I feel as though Eric Heitmann will be returning under the $1.95 million whether he is the starter or the backup, which might just make Tony Wragge expendable if the 49ers bring in someone to start ahead of Heitmann or re-sign Baas.
David Baas, San Francisco 49ers: This is a no-brainer, I've listed Baas' assets, it's just worth noting that he will probably be San Francisco's first option in free agency when it all comes down to it. Is he the best player out there for the job, though? No, not by a longshot, but he seems to do well here and for one reason or another, appeared to play above his talent level in 2010. Can he keep it up?
Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers: The team is working to et him signed, but they may use the franchise tag on him if it comes down to it. If they don't, he's one of the top free agents out there at 25 years-old, and if the 49ers have some money to commit, they should send them his way. I believe he will be in Carolina, however.
Lyle Sendlein, Arizona Cardinals: If we wanted to weaken a divisional foe, we could always poach the Cardinals of their best offensive lineman. They will be trying to re-sign him, but I doubt they use the franchise tag at this point. He might not be too expensive, and I would be ecstatic if he were to come in.
2011 NFL Draft
There are some solid options in the draft this year, and the 49ers should strongly consider bringing a guy in for the later rounds. Someone like Stefen Wisniewski is out of our range as he could be going in the first round, but after that it's wide open. From then on, there's talent that could go in the second if teams really have a need, but almost everything at that point would be a reach until you get into the third and fourth rounds, where there are some seriously gifted developmental players.
Kristofer O'Dowd has struggled so much lately, and he could be skyrocketing down boards, but there is a lot of talent there if a team feels as though his medicals check out. Tim Barnes is a solid player who could go in the fourth or fifth round. One guy I really like is Alex Linnenkohl of Oregon State, he is a very strong center who could be a starter after a year or so of learning. If we could pick him up in the fifth or even fourth round, I would be a very happy camper.