49ers analysis: Upgrading the offensive line

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If the 49ers have a weak link, it’s not their defense, or their run game, or their receivers, or their tight ends, or their quarterbacks.

If anything, it’s their right guard, Mike Person.

Not to say Person is bad. He’s a decent right guard. The 49ers almost won a Super Bowl with him, so he can’t be terrible. He certainly could start for other teams. But the 49ers can do better than Person. They can cut him and sign a free agent this offseason.

Person started the past two seasons at right guard for the 49ers and, when he was on the field, the offense generally performed well. When he wasn’t on the field, the offense generally performed well, too. Person isn’t an impact player. In 2019, he missed the final two regular-season games with a neck injury and the 49ers were fine without him. Backup Daniel Brunskill played just as well as Person.

Then Person returned for the playoffs and performed poorly in the Super Bowl. Was the glaring weak link on the 49ers in the biggest game of the season. That’s when he finally got exposed.

Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones toyed with Person all game. In the first half, Jones beat Person and caused Jimmy Garoppolo to throw a wild pass downfield, which the Chiefs intercepted. Later, in the fourth quarter, Jones batted down two of Garoppolo’s passes, and Person was blocking Jones both times. Person let Jones stand there with his hands raised like an eager fourth-grader who knew the answer to the teacher’s question. Person didn’t hit Jones in the stomach or the ribs or anywhere to force him to put his hands down. Instead, Person stood and watched, a cardinal sin for an offensive lineman.

Person isn’t a bust or a disappointment. He’s a 31-year-old overachiever. Jones is a 25-year-old Pro Bowler. Person isn’t in his class. Bad matchup. What did the 49ers expect?

The 49ers signed Person in 2018 to be their backup center. He became their starting right guard only because Joshua Garnett was injured. Person won the job by default, and kept it because Garnett stayed injured. The 49ers eventually cut Garnett. Person played well enough in 2018 to earn a modest three-year, $8.25 million extension with the 49ers. But he remains one of the lowest-paid starting guards in the league.

The 49ers don’t need him anymore. They can cut him this offseason with zero cap penalty, simply can erase his deal from the books. And they can sign a major upgrade for a few extra million dollars. Guard is a relatively inexpensive position.

The 49ers currently have roughly $13 million in cap space. If they cut Person, they’ll have $15.5 million in cap space, which is more than enough to sign a quality guard. They can probably sign Andrus Peat, who played for the Saints from 2015 to 2019 and made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons. Peat played left guard for the Saints, but can play right guard as well. He even can play left tackle — he played that position at Stanford, and could replace Joe Staley at left tackle when Staley retires.

Peat missed six games last season with a broken forearm, and has missed 15 games during his career. With his injury history, he might be too risky for the 49ers. If he had no injury history, some team probably would give him a five-year, $60 million contract, which would be too rich for the 49ers. Instead, Peat could sign a one-year, $7 or $8 million contract with a good team — say, the 49ers — then enter free agency again next year.

Peat is merely one option the 49ers should consider. Other quality guards will be available in free agency. The 49ers will have no problem upgrading this position from Person to a person of distinction.

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