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Do the 49ers need a guard in free agency?

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We review the 49ers’ guard position from 2017. Do they need to upgrade in free agency?

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

Let’s be clear: the 49ers clearly need to upgrade the left guard position. We’re getting that out of the way now. The question is whether or not they can fill the need in free agency. But first, let’s talk about how things went.

Due to a number of injuries along the offensive line, Zane Beadles and Erik Magnuson played multiple positions along the line, but eventually, Laken Tomlinson took over the left guard spot and stayed there for most of the season. He was bad. He wasn’t as bad as Beadles, but it was ugly.

Again, not quite as ugly as Beadles, who made bad plays all over the offensive line — and if you missed my film review from Wednesday, well, I’m sorry, but here it is.

Tomlinson was acquired in a trade with the Detroit Lions prior to the start of the season. The plan was always to replace Beadles with Tomlinson, and the improvement was evident immediately. But he still wasn’t particularly good.

Fusco and Tomlinson played on 98.55 and 94.82 percent of offensive snaps, respectively.

Fusco, also a late signing, was surprisingly competent at right guard. He had his issues, especially when Trent Brown was injured, but the 49ers are probably confident in him going forward. It’s all about Tomlinson, who isn’t the answer.

And then there’s Joshua Garnett, who went on injured reserve and didn’t play all season. He spent his IR time working on his body type to get in a better position to succeed in 2018. He is from a previous regime, however, and it’s impossible to know how they really feel about him.

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

2016 Week 17: Joshua Garnett, Zane Beadles, Andrew Tiller, Andrew Gardner, Mitchell Van Dyk (PS)
2017 Week 1: Zane Beadles, Brandon Fusco, Laken Tomlinson, Erik Magnuson, Joshua Garnett (IR)
Current: Laken Tomlinson, Brandon Fusco, Erik Magnuson, Joshua Garnett (IR)

The market for guards

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 guards set to hit the open market.

Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
Justin Pugh, New York Giants
Jack Mewhort, Indianapolis Colts
Jahri Evans, Green Bay Packers
Matt Slauson, Los Angeles Chargers
Josh Cline, Tennessee Titans
Joe Berger, Minnesota Vikings
Zach Fulton, Kansas City Chiefs
Evan Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
John Greco, New York Giants
Jonathan Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
Luke Joeckel, Seattle Seahawks
Andrew Tiller, New Orleans Saints
Senio Kelemete, New Orleans Saints
Patrick Omameh, Jacksonville Jaguars