Weston Richburg was supposed to this 49ers team what Alex Mack was for Kyle Shanahan’s Atlanta Falcons — a talented and smart (and expensive) free agent center who takes the complicated offense from sputtering to explosive.
Instead, he was last year’s biggest FA disappointment —- underperforming as he struggled through injuries. Pro Football Focus ranked him the 33rd best center in the league -- below starter level, virtually, with a 51.9 rating.
In January, he had knee and quadricep surgery, which will keep him limited until training camp. Hopefully, he’ll return, fully healed, and live up to his expectations (and salary). If not, he may be battling LB Malcolm Smith for the title of the Lynchahan era’s biggest FA flop.
Age: 27 (he’ll turn 28 on July 9)
Experience: 5 seasons
Last year the Niners signed him to a 5-year deal for $47.5 million, with $16.5 million fully guaranteed. As of April 1, his base salary of $5.5 million became guaranteed for this year. The team is not going to cut him — they don’t have much else at center — but if they did (after June 1), they would save $475,000 and have $7.36 million of dead money. He has nothing guaranteed going forward, though, as long as the team cuts him by April 1, 2020.
What to expect in 2019
I’m optimistic about Richburg’s recovery. He’s at his physical peak and already played through his injury last season, so there’s no reason to think that he was permanently damaged.
I don’t think anyone believes he is as talented as Alex Mack, who is a superb football player and did a fantastic job portraying a teenage girl with special powers on Nickolodeon. But if he can return to the form he showed with the New York Giants before his November 2017 concussion, he will be a significant upgrade for this offense.
Odds of making the roster
If he can walk into training camp, he will be on this roster. The 49ers have no real plan B. I mean that literally — Richburg is the only player listed as a center on the team’s official roster on their website). Erik Magnuson can play the spot, in a pinch — but he’s also the guy whose bad snap cost the Niners a chance to tie the game against Arizona last year. So book it.