Three years ago, the 49ers signed an aging veteran who is a perfect fit for their system that they believe has enough left in the tank to be a difference-maker.
It worked out with Richard Sherman. Now, the 49ers hope their decision to sign All-Decade center Alex Mack pays off in the same way.
The 49ers reportedly are expected to sign Mack to a contract, NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday, giving the interior of San Francisco’s offensive line a much-needed facelift.
Mack, 35, played for coach Kyle Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland and Atlanta. The Cal Berkeley product knows Shanahan’s system well and will provide good pass protection up the middle, an area where the 49ers struggled in 2020 with center Weston Richburg missing the season due to injury.
The 49ers expect Richburg to retire after undergoing hip surgery recently. With Richburg out, the 49ers cycled through centers in 2020, eventually asking fourth-string center Daniel Brunskill, usually the right tackle, to shift over to center.
The revolving door at center gave the 49ers issues at picking up interior pressure. While Mack isn’t the Pro Bowl center he once was, he still is a good pass protector and knows how to organize the outside-zone blocking scheme Shanahan likes to run. Last season, Mack allowed only one sack over 633 pass-blocking snaps and was flagged for just three penalties.
Adding Mack, in addition to the re-signing of Trent Williams, gives the 49ers a rebuilt and cohesive offensive line. Mack’s durability — he’s played in all 16 games in 10 of his 12 seasons — is a massive bonus for a 49ers’ offensive line that couldn’t find consistency due to injuries last season. With Mack locked in at center, that should allow Brunskill — or perhaps a rookie taken at No. 12 if the 49ers are so inclined — to get comfortable at right guard.
The 49ers’ offensive line has been good at run-blocking over the last two seasons but has struggled in pass protection. Putting a veteran center who is a good system fit and excels at pass protection should help keep the interior pressure off of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and allow the offense to stay on schedule.
Mack also could be used to mentor a young center should the 49ers choose to draft one, giving the rookie some time to sit and learn the complex system from Mack and Shanahan before taking over in 2022.
The road back to the Super Bowl, one the 49ers hope to travel, begins in the trenches. With the re-signing of Williams and the addition of Mack, the 49ers made sure their offensive line will be a strength in 2021.