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49ers OL free agency, trade investment features little downside

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The 49ers added four veteran offensive linemen this offseason, but none is a huge financial investment.

The San Francisco 49ers offensive line has been a problem much of the past three seasons due to a combination of injuries and questions about the talent. This past season, nine different players started a game on the line, with six different offensive line rotations. For comparison’s sake, in 2012, the 49ers started the same offensive line every single game.

This offseason, the 49ers invested in the offensive line, but they did not go crazy. The team acquired Jeremy Zuttah in a trade, and signed Garry Gilliam, Tim Barnes, and Brandon Fusco in free agency. The 49ers also signed J.P. Flynn, Evan Goodman, Erik Magnuson, Darrell Williams Jr., and Richard Levy as undrafted free agents. One of the UDFAs could surprise, but for the time being, I wanted to focus on the veterans.

We already know about the Gilliam and Zuttah contracts. The 49ers signed Gilliam to a one-year deal worth up to $2.2 million. He got a $1.25 million fully guaranteed at signing, which included a $500,000 signing bonus and $750,000 of his 2017 base salary guaranteed at signing. The Baltimore Ravens were planning on releasing Zuttah before the 49ers swooped in to do a deal. Zuttah is signed through 2018 with a base salary of $3.5 million each of the next two seasons. He has no guaranteed money

The Ravens were expected to release Zuttah, but the 49ers were able to swing a deal to get the needed depth. Zuttah is signed through 2018, earning $3.5 million in base salary each of the next two seasons. His pro-rated signing bonus rolls up as dead money on the Ravens books, and he has no future guaranteed money on his contract.

Details have not leaked with regard to the deals signed by Tim Barnes and Brandon Fusco, but we have some initial information. The NFLPA salary database lists Barnes with a $775,000 salary for this season, and Fusco with a $1 million salary. We don’t know about bonuses and the like, but the salaries do provide some clues about the deals.

Barnes has five accrued seasons, and the CBA dictates a $775,000 minimum salary for any player with four to six accrued seasons. This means Barnes is signed to the league minimum. He might have some bonus money as well, but it likely will not exceed $70,000. I say that because the minimum base salary suggests he will get the minimum salary benefit treatment. That decreases his cap hit to that of a player with two credited seasons.

Fusco will not be treated with the minimum salary benefit. He has either five or six accrued seasons (he appeared in three games his rookie season, but I am not sure if he was inactive or not on the roster for any of the remaining 13). Either way, the minimum the 49ers could pay him is $775,000. That means he is making $225,000 more than the league minimum. It is also worth noting that we don’t know what guarantees he has received in terms of a signing bonus or base salary guarantee.

Whatever Fusco’s guarantees, he and Barnes are both getting fairly minimal investments by the 49ers. This does not mean the 49ers don’t think either player will make an impact, but they are not exactly betting the farm on it. Both men are 28, and this is their last best chance to potentially prove they are worthy of a bigger deal. Barnes is currently behind Jeremy Zuttah and Daniel Kilgore at center. Fusco has been getting second team guard work, but has also gotten first string right guard work when Joshua Garnett has moved over to left guard. Garnett appears to still be getting the majority of his practice time at first string right guard, so Fusco has some work in front of him.

All of this is to say, the 49ers have competition along the offensive line without any real major commitments in their 2017 additions. The team will continue rotating options as they work to figure out who will fit where. We don’t know how this group will shake out, so it’s hard to say how aggressive the team will get next year in free agency or the draft. But in the meantime, they have not added any major commitments to the offensive line.