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49ers' offensive line: Who stays, who goes this offseason?

The last thing you want to do is create multiple new starters for a quarterback starting for the first time.

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Left tackle Trent Williams may need offseason surgery on his ankle, which is currently a Grade 2 high-ankle sprain that he played through during the NFC Championship.

Left guard Laken Tomlinson is an unrestricted free agent. So if the 49ers are looking to penny-pinch, another team could outbid “Mr. Available,” creating another starting roster spot.

Alex Mack will be 37-years-old next season. Mack doesn’t have any guaranteed money remaining in the two years left on his contract. After the season, Mack said he was unsure about his future plans and would ponder retirement.

The 49ers drafted Aaron Banks in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but Banks was not ready to play. He could not beat out journeymen Daniel Brunskill. The Niners could get by with Brunskill against mediocre and average teams. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in the playoffs.

Then there’s right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who was ruled out for the season on November 8 with a torn quad. McGlinchey was having a career year and made the decision to pick up the fifth year of his contract-wise through eight games.

The more the 49ers played, the more it became apparent they missed McGlinchey. Were they scoring points? Yes. Deebo Samuel and the explosive plays the team generated masked deficiencies upfront. The right side of the line was exposed during the playoffs.

Decisions, decisions

If you knew you were getting 15 games out of Trent Williams, you’d sign up for that every year. He’s a pleasure to watch and reminded everyone why he’s the best left tackle in the NFL. Williams will be back.

Tomlinson should return for a few reasons. For starters, he has a great relationship with Williams, and they play well off each other and as a tandem. Tomlinson allowed two sacks all season and his opponent only made a stop four times, which came out to 0.9%, per Sports Info Solutions. Tomlinson, quietly, had a career year. He did not play well in the NFC Championship. Not many people do against Aaron Donald.

Tomlinson will turn 30 next week, but the 49ers iron man, who is in the Pro Bowl as an alternate, mentioned how he was grateful for the organization giving him another chance and essentially being the catalyst for a career reboot. The team should re-sign Tomlinson.

I’m going to be a bit obnoxious here. Let’s say Mack retires. We could even say the Niners cut Mack and save a couple of million in cap space over the next two years. If my assumptions are correct about Tampa Bay pressing the reset button, I’d prioritize Ryan Jensen in free agency. The Bucs center turns 31 in May. He is also an unrestricted free agent.

Jensen, who should have been the first-team All-Pro center, will not be cheap. But if Banks is your future at right guard and the goal is to get more downhill to suit him, then Jensen is the perfect pairing for a quarterback and right guard starting for the first time. Both Banks and Jensen excel in pass protection. He’s allowed 4 sacks combined in the past three seasons. Jensen has not missed a game since 2016.

The question for McGlinchey isn’t whether or not he’ll start or be around. We should ask if he needs time to shake off the rust, and will he be as athletic post-injury? He’s still only 27, but injuries add up.

McGlinchey spent the 2020 offseason at the 49ers’ facility rehabbing from a PRP procedure on his right knee. He didn’t miss any games, but he did miss four during the 2019 Super Bowl run.

While Jensen is a pipe dream, the last thing this offense needs is new starters along the offensive line with Lance in his first full season as a starter. Continuity is vital for success upfront and for keeping Lance upright.