San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch has done a great job turning over the talent-deficient roster and picking up intriguing pieces at almost every position. Almost. Guard remains shaky at best, especially with Josh Garnett out indefinitely after a surgical knee “cleaning,” and Kyle Shanahan’s play-action-based offense won’tgenerate much yardage if the interior of the offensive line sucks.
No Pro Bowl linemen are going to materialize late in the pre-season, especially as the normal training camp injuries pile up, but there’s a good chance the Niners can find a veteran better than Zane Beadles.
The best bet will be an expensive, aging veteran, since they have far more salary cap room than any other team and pick second on the waiver wire. Teams are testing rookies and second-year players in camp to see if they can replace costly, slowing warhorses.
The Niners are unlikely to challenge for the playoffs this year, but they’ll need a functional line to implement Shanahan’s offense, protect the quarterbacks and develop the promising tight ends, wide receivers and running backs they picked up this year.
They may be extra opportunity in the chaos of this first year of roster cuts directly from 90 to 53, without the intermediate 75 man roster; roughly 1,200 players will be available overnight after game four of the preseason.
So here are some potential pickups, based on reports about training camp battles around the league. Some of these guys might be cut; others would require trade compensation, lest their team move them to a depth role and cut a lesser player.
Wes Schweitzer or Ben Garland, Atlanta Falcons
A player who has succeeded in Kyle Shanahan’s offense would be perfect, and there is a pitched camp competition at right guard on his old team. Schweitzer, a sixth round draft pick from San Jose State in 2016, did not get into a game last behind the departed Chris Chester. Garland, 29, played offense (42 snaps), defense (a few on the goal line) and special teams (160) over 19 games for Atlanta last year. Both players are raw but trained in this system.
Vladimir Ducasse or John Miller, Buffalo Bills
PFF ranked the Bills as the most successful outside zone team last year, with 5.73 yards per carry and 2.77 yards before contact, both league bests. However, they only ran the play 30 times (vs. 200 by Atlanta and a league average of 91).
New OL coach Juan Castillo brought a veteran with him from Baltimore, 2010 second round pick Vlad Ducasse, who started Buffalo’s second preseason game against Baltimore. Neither Miller nor Ducasse has separated himself, but Miller was PFF’s most improved second-year guard last year, making Ducasse expendable. If Miller loses out, even better.
Chaz Green, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are widely considered to have the best line in the league but have had a lot of turnover this year, especially at left guard with La’el Collins moving to right tackle and Ronald Leary leaving in free agency. Green looks likely to lose his competition against Jonathan Cooper and Byron Bell.
He was considered a stretch as a third round pick in 2015 but is talented enough that Dallas was thinking about making him their right tackle last year. His biggest problem is staying on the field; dude has managed just 4 games in two NFL seasons, and has suffered shoulder and leg injuries as well as dehydration-related cramping in this year’s training camp. It’s not clear he would be an upgrade, given all of that.
Luke Bowanko or Patrick Omameh, Jacksonville Jaguars
26-year-old OL journeyman Luke Bowanko has experience at center, too, and is getting first team snaps in his competition against Patrick Omameh, who played well in seven games replacing the injured Luke Joeckel last year. Both have played poorly this August, though, and the competition remains open. Would either be an upgrade?
Amini Silatolu, Carolina Panthers
Veteran Silatolu started fifteen games as a rookie guard in 2012, but has suffered two ACL tears since and sat out last year entirely as he recovered. The Panthers are trying to convert him to a tackle behind Matt Kalil, but if he doesn't work out there, he might be available.