We will review the offensive line as a whole later this week, but the San Francisco 49ers have a decision to make at right guard. Mike Person started all but two games this past season on offense. Person was “fine,” but he was the clear weak link on offense. The top interior defensive lineman is going to get the best of most guards in this league, but against above-average defensive tackles, Person struggled.
The 49ers signed Person to a three-year extension on March 4, 2019. Person’s cap number won’t be higher than $3 million over the next two seasons, so there’s no reason to move on from Person—who will be 32 in July. There is nothing wrong with upgrading positions and improving your roster. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Let’s go over the three options.
Financially, it makes the most sense for the 49ers to let Person battle Daniel Brunskill at right guard. On Sunday, NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco tweeted, “I would not be surprised if Daniel Brunskill wins a starting job this year.” If we’re judging Brunskill off play, he should be on the field in 2020. My take on his 2019 season was Brunskill was closer to looking like a promising starter for the future than a competent swing tackle. He was impressive. Brunskill is still young, as he was an undrafted free agent in 2017. He struggled in one game this season, and that was against this guy named Aaron Donald. In ten other games, Brunskill allowed one sack and four total pressures. He was lights out in pass protection and fit what San Francisco wanted to do as a running team well.
Of the options we’ll list, I’m rolling with Brunskill in 2020. It makes sense from a salary cap standpoint, you already know he’s a fit in your offense, so that eliminates any guessing games, and you saw Brunskill play well coming off the bench at three positions.
If the 49ers pony up the cash for a free agent guard, that really tells you they’re trying to take advantage of their championship window. Brunskill or Person may go through more growing pains in 2020. Let’s say they sign Washington’s guard Brandon Scherff for $12 million a year. The front office will likely have to cut some corners at other positions to make it work, but it’s certainly plausible. I use Scherff as a big-name example. Scherff has been on the injured reserved two seasons in a row. Injuries may keep the 49ers away from him, or other free agents that have struggled to stay healthy for an entire season. If San Francisco wants to sign a lower-level free agent, then it would make sense to roll with what’s on the roster or address right guard during the draft.
I’m in the belief that if you think you’re close, use free agency to get an established lineman. It’s a tricky situation for the 49ers. You have to find out how much better Scherff or whatever free agent would be than Brunksill or Person. If the difference is minimal, then save that money. These are the discussions the team has this offseason.
For every Quenton Nelson, there are 10 Josh Garnett’s, so be careful what you wish for. Whether it’s a talent, injury, or not adjusting to the NFL, high draft picks in recent years have flamed out before their rookie contract is up. I haven’t watched interior offensive linemen in the draft, but those that have to feel like it’s one of the worst position groups this year.
Others believe the group of guards in the 2020 NFL Draft have value in the middle rounds, where the 49ers don’t have a pick. Brunskill and Person were both undrafted, and there are several examples all over the past few seasons of linemen drafted late or not drafted at all that contributed right away. It’s a fun discussion to have. What direction would you go?