The San Francisco 49ers will need to figure out ways to improve their offensive line in 2016. The unit was one of the biggest reasons for their offensive success under Jim Harbaugh. Injuries and lack of sufficient development created problems in 2014 that only got worse in 2015.
The 49ers now head into the 2016 offseason with a chance to right the ship to some degree, but also plenty of question marks. On the one hand, they can expect to have Daniel Kilgore to start the season. Andrew Tiller emerged as a significant option at guard, and will likely have a starting spot nailed down this offseason. It took Trenton Brown time to get into the lineup, but once Brown did start getting snaps, he showed some signs that he could become a potential fixture at tackle. Oh, and Anthony Davis has said he will return this offseason.
On the other hand, there is a strong chance the team will lose Alex Boone to free agency. Additionally, Marcus Martin struggled in the starting lineup, and was eventually benched. That's more than we can say about Brandon Thomas, who has been unable to even crack the regular season lineup. Jordan Devey was mostly a bust, and Erik Pears seems better suited for a reserve role.
The question now is what will happen in free agency and the draft. My thought has been that the team will look for some reserve options, with the potential for a day two pick to continue building for the future. You can never have enough young offensive linemen, and if some of the young guys are not working out, it is time to consider other options.
However, I have seen a little bit of discussion by some suggesting big money spending on the offensive line. One name that has been mentioned for some reason is Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack. He has the option to opt out of his contract this offseason. He has said the team is going in the right direction, but there is still speculation he will opt out of a deal. He is due $8 million in 2016, and $6 million each in 2017 and 2018. If he does not opt out, his $8 million salary this coming season becomes fully guaranteed. However, at the age of 30, an opt-out now could get him more guaranteed money than if he played out the remaining three seasons.
I don't expect the 49ers to go after a guy like Mack, but could they invest with more than just draft picks, and reserves in free agency? The team has plenty of money. They have never spent big on veteran guards, which is why I think Boone is out the door. If they are not going to count on Anthony Davis (probably a good bet for now), can they count on Martin or Thomas actually showing something in the coming season?