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Do the 49ers need an offensive tackle in free agency?

We review the 49ers’ offensive tackle position from 2017. Do they need to upgrade at swing tackle?

Before the start of the NFL free agency period, we’re going to look at various positions on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster to determine a few things. The first is whether or not the position improved from 2016 to 2017. The second is to see if free agency is a viable option to improve the position — if it’s even needed.

Season in review

The offensive tackle position was the strong point of the 49ers’ offensive line in 2017, even if the line as a whole wasn’t great. Left tackle Joe Staley, after a rough 2016, bounced back and was once again an elite tackle this season.

Staley wound up making the Pro Bowl as an alternate, and was given high marks by Pro Football Focus throughout the season. He was one of the team’s highest-graded players.

Brown wound up starting 10 games at right tackle before he went on injured reserve. Brown was also playing great, perhaps better than Staley, and was out-performing everyone in both pass and run blocking.

The circumstances behind his injury are interesting because it was never known how serious it was until the 49ers placed him on injured reserve — and that was after Kyle Shanahan sounded frustrated by a lack of communication from Brown regarding the injury.

Erik Magnuson started two games at right tackle and played some left tackle when Staley was down for one game. Garry Gilliam started one game at right tackle. Zane Beadles started five games total, but some were at guard. He finished the season as the right tackle, and he was abysmal.

I think Magnuson is a very interesting player. I thought he was more of a guard, but he played tackle and he actually played well. He made mistakes, but he generally looked a lot better than one would have expected. Gilliam was supposed to be a high-level swing tackle, but we barely got to see him.

I’d call this a position of need in free agency if the 49ers are at all concerned about Brown, Gilliam or Magnuson being ready for 2018. The 49ers need a proven swing tackle above all else, while both Staley and Brown are expected to be fine.

Here’s a look at the way the position changed from 2016 to 2017:

2016 Week 17: LT Joe Staley, RT Trent Brown, OT John Theus, OL Zane Beadles, Colin Kelly (PS), Norman Price (PS)
2017 Week 1: LT Joe Staley, RT Trent Brown, OT Garry Gilliam, OT John Theus
Current: LT Joe Staley, RT Trent Brown (IR), OT Garry Gilliam (IR), Erik Magnuson (IR) OT Darrell Williams Jr. OT Pace Murphy (PS)

The market for offensive tackles

We’re going to take a deeper look at the various positions and free agents available in a separate series. For now, here’s a quick and dirty list of the top offensive tackle set to hit the open market.

Ja’Wuan James, Miami Dolphins
Nate Solder, New England Patriots
Cameron Fleming, New England Patriots
Chris Hubbard, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ty Nsekhe, Washington (RFA)
Garry Gilliam, San Francisco 49ers
Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
Chris Clark, Houston Texans
Greg Robinson, Detroit Lions
Breno Giacomini, Houston Texans
Donald Stephenson, Denver Broncos
Byron Bell, Dallas Cowboys
Chris Hairston, Los Angeles Chargers