Kyle Shanahan took a risk having Jake Brendel – who had three career starts in four seasons previous to 2022 – replace the retiring Alex Mack this season, and the gamble paid off.
The 49ers are at risk of losing their starting center for the second year in a row with Brendel scheduled to hit free agency next month, creating a possible need at center. So, how can the 49ers address the potential need?
The easiest option would be to bring back Brendel and give in the interior of the offensive line some continuity. The 49ers’ three Week 1 starters on the interior of the offensive line saw Brendel making his fourth career start, and both Aaron Banks and Spencer Burford making their first.
Brendel’s start in that game marked the fifth different Week 1 starting center in six seasons under Shanahan. Brendel went on to lead the 49ers’ offense with 1,252 snaps in 20 games while allowing just 14 pressures, with an above-average Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade.
If the 49ers are unable to retain Brendel, they could turn their attention to bringing back utility lineman Daniel Brunskill. Brunskill has been with the 49ers since 2019 with snaps at all five spots on the line, but since 2020 has been used on the interior. Even though he mainly played as a guard in 2021 and 2022, Brunskill logged 546 snaps over eight games in 2020 in replacement of Ben Garland. He has the experience and the trust needed from Shanahan to step into the center role in 2023.
Beyond Brendel and Brunskill, both Nick Zakelj and Jason Poe are currently on the 49ers roster, but their inexperience could see them more fit as backups in 2023. The 49ers could look into free agency, but currently lack the cap space and too many other needs to really make a big splash signing at center, especially when either Brendel or Brunskill would likely come at a lower price than say a Connor McGovern.
Barring any surprises, the most likely scenarios for the 49ers center in 2023 would either be Brendel or Brunskill. Shanahan has proven in the past he likes familiarity on the offensive line.
Brendel was brought in because of his time in Miami with current 49ers offensive line coach Chris Foerster, and Brunskill has been a Swiss army knife on the offensive line. The 49ers likely opt to go with a familiar name at center, especially with a potential change coming at another spot on the offensive line.