Editor’s note: This is Part II of a four-part series profiling unrestricted free agents the 49ers could pursue in 2018. Head to the home article for links to Parts I, III and IV.
Nate Solder, OT
Age in 2018: 30
Last deal: 2 years, $20M (Patriots)
Even as the heir apparent to Matt Light, Solder built up a nice rep with solid years protecting Tom Brady’s backside, including two more Super Bowl winning seasons. While he had a rough start to 2017, he’s picked it back up, pitching five consecutive shutouts, including one of Von Miller. Looking at the tackle position, New England has Antonio Garcia, a 2017 third-round pick out of Troy. He is on the non-football illness list this year. But if Bill Belichick is confident in Garcia as the future starter, Solder could test the market and likely find a new home, as New England is not known to match offers. As for his fit in San Francisco, Solder could replace Trent Brown at right tackle, a position he played some as a rookie.
Weston Richburg, C
Age in 2018: 27
Last deal: 4 years, $4.8M (Giants)
Richburg is in a situation where he is on injured reserve for a concussion in a contract year, and all the while, his backup is playing well. That being the case, the former 43rd overall pick looks like he could be the most talented center to see free agency. Richburg would be a refreshing upgrade from Daniel Kilgore, who exceeded expectations as a fifth-round guard out of Appalachian State. Kilgore started for four seasons and never really faced any competition for his spot, especially as the offensive line lost talent and regressed as a whole. He is now a free agent—and the Niners have a chance to get better.
Update: The 49ers are landing Richburgh on a five-year deal.
Ryan Jenson, C
Age in 2018: 27
Last deal: 1 year, $1.7M (Ravens)
Jensen has emerged into a quality starter after entering the league as a sixth-round pick in 2013 and making his way up from the practice squad. The arrow is pointing up. He’s started all of Baltimore’s games this season, which is a first for Jensen. And he’s performed like a top-five center, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. As an enforcer type, he would be a much-welcomed addition to the line. If the 49ers can steal him away from the Ravens, they should.
Update: The Ravens elected not to place the franchise tag on Jensen.
Andrew Norwell, OG
Age in 2018: 27
Last deal: 1 year, $2.7M (Panthers)
Norwell is a bit of a pit bull at left guard for Carolina. He’s smart, quick and physical, and has performed among the league’s best at the position this year. The 49ers having a gaping hole next to Joe Staley and could settle it before the draft with Norwell, providing them with even more flexibility in Round 1. Given how he’s played recently, the 49ers could feel confident in Norwell as a solution to their problem at left guard.
Update: The Panthers chose not to tag Norwell, even though they reached a long-term deal with kicker Graham Gano before the deadline. After it was reportedly a three-team race between the 49ers, Colts and Giants, the Jaguars snuck in the mix and got Norwell to agree to be their guard.
Jack Mewhort, OG
Age in 2018: 27
Last deal: 4 years, $3.5M (Colts)
Mewhort was a second-round pick by Indianapolis in 2014 out of Ohio State. He’s started all 45 games he’s appeared in, including a complete 16-game schedule in 2015. He ended 2016 and 2017 on injured reserve, missing a total of 17 games. At 6-foot-6, 309 pounds, Mewhort has been versatile and effective for the Colts, playing left guard, right tackle and right guard. If the 49ers were to add him, he could play left guard opposite Joshua Garnett, provide right guard insurance if Garnett goes down or underperforms, or even compete with Trent Brown to start at right tackle.
Justin Pugh, OG
Age in 2018: 28
Last deal: 4 years, $8.34M (Giants)
The Giants are heading for an overhaul on offense, and that includes much of the line, which has been in shambles. But buried in that overall poor-performing unit have been Richburg and also Pugh, who are both above-average players. With New York at No. 2 in the draft, they are a favorite to take mauling Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. The rookie would take over as the guy, as Pugh finds another home in free agency. If that's the plan, and the 49ers don't believe they have a shot at Nelson, Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez, they could take action by signing the 6-foot-5, 307-pound Pugh, who has 63 NFL starts under his belt.
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