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Protecting Jimmy Garoppolo was the first order of business.

On Tuesday, the 49ers and free-agent offensive lineman Weston Richburg agreed to a five-year contract, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. This is the first move the 49ers have made since Monday, when the NFL’s “legal tampering” period began — the period when agents and teams can begin negotiating.

Richburg, 26, played the first four seasons of his career with the New York Giants, and is the top center on the market this offseason. His deal with the 49ers will become official once free agency begins at 1 p.m. today.

Richburg will help an offensive line that had major issues last season, particularly the interior offensive line — center Daniel Kilgore and guards Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco. All three struggled in every way.

Tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown typically held their own in pass protection.

Still, the 49ers gave up 43 sacks in 2017 — tied for 10th most in the NFL. Most of that pressure came right up the middle, through the interior of the 49ers’ offensive line.

Over time, heavy interior pressure could lead to injuries for Garoppolo. The 49ers are trying to prevent those injuries.

They’re also trying to improve their running game. Last season, the 49ers couldn’t find consistent success with head coach Kyle Shanahan’s favorite running play — the outside zone.

When the 49ers ran the outside zone, an opposing defensive lineman usually knocked one of the 49ers’ interior offensive linemen backward into the path of the running back, and threw off the entire play.

Richburg can hold his ground as a center, both on run plays and pass plays. And he has experience in a system that’s similar to Shanahan’s.

Richburg played college football at Colorado State for head coach Jim McElwain, who also ran the outside zone play. McElwain has an NFL pedigree — he coached quarterbacks for the Oakland Raiders in 2006.

In 2014, the Giants took Richburg in the second round of the NFL draft, and planned to sit him on the bench his rookie season. But a toe injury to starting left guard Geoff Schwartz forced the Giants to put Richburg on the field. He started 15 games but played poorly, so the Giants benched him for their Week 12 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

The next season, 2015, the Giants moved Richburg back to his natural position, center, and he flourished. From 2015 to 2016, he started 31 games at center for the Giants. But during Week 4 of 2017, Richburg suffered a concussion and missed the rest of the season.

He recently told reporters that as early as December, he felt healthy enough to return to the team and play, but the Giants decided to place him on the Injured Reserve list and end his season anyway.

The concussion didn’t appear to affect Richburg’s market value.

Here’s what Richburg has going for him, according to Schwartz, his former teammate from the Giants and current analyst for Sirius XM Radio:

“Excellent fit for Shanahan’s offense,” Schwartz tweeted Tuesday morning. “Will excel in a scheme where it’s more than down blocks and inside zone. Can also be a field general for Jimmy G.”

ALL-EMPIRE: SMALL SCHOOL FOOTBALL

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Lucas Triplett, sr., Fort Bragg

OFFENSE

FIRST TEAM

QB: Hokulani Wickard, jr., Lower Lake

RB: Trystin Strickland, sr., Fort Bragg

RB: Dwayne Yiggins, sr., Middletown

WR: Shane Giaccani, sr., Fort Bragg

WR: Alfio Basile, sr., St. Helena

TE: Austin Cia, sr., St. Helena

OL: Gavin Bartell, jr., Clear Lake

OL: Justin Celeri, jr., Fort Bragg

OL: Aaron Teal, sr., Kelseyville

OL: Virgil Ellis, jr., Clear Lake

OL: Colton Hall, jr., Middletown

PK: Dominic Gorman, jr., Fort Bragg

SECOND TEAM

QB: Logan Barrick, jr., Kelseyville

RB: Niko Lopez, sr., St. Helena

RB: Paul Bartholow, jr., Rincon Valley Christian

RB: Tony Pardini, sr., Anderson Valley

WR: Robbie Carey, sr., Middletown

WR: Michael Davis, sr., St. Vincent

TE: Devon Ross, jr., Middletown

OL: Clayton DeForge, sr., St. Helena

OL: Alex Ybarra, sr., Fort Bragg

OL: Isaac Arnold, soph., Fort Bragg

OL: Nick Murphy, sr., St. Vincent

OL: Mitchell Hollingsworth, jr., Willits

DEFENSE

FIRST TEAM

DL: Gavin Bartell, sr., Clear Lake

DL: Cameron Ketchum, jr., Middletown

DL: Jess Cavender, sr., Fort Bragg

DL: Devon Ross, jr., Middletown

LB: Michael Cavender, sr., Fort Bragg

LB: Peerliss Brooke, jr., Lower Lake

LB: Aaron Teal, sr., Kelseyville

LB: Willie Maples, jr., Rincon Valley Christian

LB: Ty Chorjel, sr., Middletown

DB: Lucas Triplett, sr., Fort Bragg

DB: Gabe Guzman, sr., Middletown

DB: Aiden McAdon, jr., Kelseyville

DB: Marlon Jones, sr., Lower Lake

SECOND TEAM

DL: Bryan Carrillo, soph., Kelseyville

DL: Daniel Solano, sr., Fort Bragg

DL: Will Foley, jr., Cloverdale

DL: Tyler Hawkins, jr., Rincon Valley Christian

LB: Austin Cia, sr., St. Helena

LB: Bobby Gonzales, jr., Clear Lake

LB: Daniel Cook, sr., Fort Bragg

DB: Jason McCoard, jr., Fort Bragg

DB: Brian Orozco, sr., Clear Lake

DB: James Wirt, jr., DB

DB: Michael Davis, sr., St. Vincent

COACH OF THE YEAR

Roy Perkins, Fort Bragg

The 49ers have not indicated where they plan to play Richburg — at center or guard.

Center would seem like the obvious choice. But on Feb. 14, the 49ers re-signed Kilgore, their starting center for the past four seasons. Gave him a three-year, $11.7 million contract.

“Weston should be playing center,” Schwartz tweeted on Tuesday. “There’s not much debate for me on that.”

It seems unlikely the 49ers would give Richburg a five-year contract and then change his position.

If Richburg takes Kilgore’s spot at center, Kilgore can become the backup center. Or, the 49ers can move him to guard. They need help at guard, too.

Fusco, the 49ers’ starting right guard in 2017, is a free agent, and they don’t seem interested in re-signing him. The remaining guards on the roster are Tomlinson, Joshua Garnett, Zane Beadles and Erik Magnuson, and none have established themselves as dependable starters in the NFL.

The 49ers could target a guard later during free agency or during the draft.

NOTES

The 49ers are scheduled to meet with free-agent cornerback DeShawn Shead today, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Shead met with the Detriot Lions on Tuesday.

Shead, 29, has played for the Seattle Seahawks his entire career.

In 2016, he became a starter and played 15 games, but tore his ACL during the playoffs and missed all but two games of the 2017 season. The Seahawks released him on Monday.

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