49ers Named Among Best Fits for ‘Quality’ Free Agent

Alex Mack

Getty The 49ers still have a huge hole to fill at the heart of their O-line.

Offensive line has been a team strength for the San Francisco 49ers during most of the Kyle Shanahan era, but that could change in 2022. Departures at two key positions have raised questions about how a new-look front will fare this season.

Training camp has yet to provide any encouraging answers, with the line pushed around by a depleted defensive front for most of the session on Friday, July 29. It means Shanahan and general manager John Lynch can’t afford to ignore any viable free agents still on the market.

Fortunately, one veteran who remains available could help fortify San Fran’s line at several positions. He’s been described by one NFL writer as “one of the best in the league,” with the 49ers among the team’s listed as this accomplished lineman’s best fits.

49ers One of Three Teams Perfect for Skilled Center

In a look at the best free agents still available ahead of preseason, Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine zeroed in on JC Tretter. Ballentine identified three best fits for the center who played for the Cleveland Browns in 2021, including the 49ers, Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins.

Even though he’s 31 and was released by the Browns in March, Tretter is still playing at a high level, according to Ballentine: “The fact that a center of Tretter’s quality is still available is a surprise. Last season, he was ranked seventh among all centers by PFF. He only gave up one sack and committed just five penalties while earning a 78.7 grade from PFF.”

There’s no doubt Tretter would be an asset for the 49ers, especially after the team saw longtime center Alex Mack retire back in June:

Mack’s decision to hang up the cleats further thinned an O-line already weakened by guard Laken Tomlinson’s departure to the New York Jets during free agency. Both Tomlinson and Mack played key roles in the versatile rushing attack Shanahan has made the foundation of the San Francisco offense.

Mack was athletic enough to quickly work up to the linebacker level and shift into space as part of the famed zone-stretch blocking Shanahan has often favored. Meanwhile, Tomlinson’s ability to pull around the corner and use his 6’3″, 323-pound frame to flatten defenders was crucial for the trap, counter and power plays that have become features of this running game in recent seasons.

Tretter would offer both traits after four seasons knocking open holes for prolific Browns runners Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Aside from being a factor in the ground game, Tretter has also established a niche in pass protection, per Pro Football Focus:

While Tretter looks like a natural replacement for Mack, there’s also the added bonus of his versatility. Tretter originally entered the league as an offensive tackle, drafted in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers in 2013, before steadily moving inside until he aligned over the ball.

The 49ers need flexibility up front while they try out new combinations in search of the right mix. So far at least, it’s been a difficult process.

Reshuffled Line Struggling at Camp

There’s a worrying lack of experience along the line, outside of tackles Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey. New faces struggled at camp on Friday, with resulting problems for quarterback Trey Lance, according to Matt Barrows of The Athletic:

Left tackle Trent Williams was back at practice after the birth of his child, but he was held out of team drills, as was right tackle Mike McGlinchey. That meant Colton McKivitz (four career starts) and Jaylon Moore (three starts) continued to play tackle on a first-team line that also included Jake Brendel (three), Aaron Banks (zero) and Spencer Burfurd (zero). The results were happy feet and unsightly throws from Lance, including one to the left sideline that must have slipped from his hand because it wobbled like a shanked punt. He was 3-of-10 in team drills and is 15-of-32 in those situations over the first three practices of camp.

Barrows also noted how Daniel Brunskill replaced Jake Brendel as the starting center with the first team on Friday. It didn’t matter because the O-line was still tormented by a defensive front missing star names Arik Armstead and Joey Bosa.

Those struggles are an ominous warning to Shanahan, who is counting on unproven players like Brendel to fill the void created by Mack stepping away from the game. It’s too much of a gamble considering neither Brendel nor Brunskill represents a significant upgrade over Mack.

It’s a different story for Tretter, according to Locked on 49ers host Brian Peacock, who cited encouraging numbers from PFF:

The 49ers don’t have much room under the salary cap, just $4,268,613 worth of space, per Spotrac.com. Yet, that’s enough to at least secure a one-year deal for Tretter, whose experience and proven talent would immediately ease concerns about a vital area of the team.

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