When it comes to the NFL offseason, most teams try to have their biggest personnel questions answered by the time the NFL Draft ends. However, that hasn't been the case in San Francisco this year. Not only do they still have plenty of questions still hanging over their heads with Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo trade drama, but the 49ers could also be dealt another blow with the potential loss of a key offensive starter.
As things currently stand, the 49ers have no idea who their starting center is going to be in 2022 and that's because their starter from last year, Alex Mack, is currently contemplating retirement. Mack, who started all 20 games the 49ers played in last year, is a key member of the team's offensive line, but it's still not clear if he's going to return for his 14th NFL season.
When a player is contemplating retirement, a team usually wants to know his plans before the start of free agency so they can look for his replacement if he ends up calling it quits. If the player isn't ready to make a decision by the start of free agency, the team will almost always want to know his plans before the draft. That way, if he decides to retire, then the team will know going into the draft what their positional needs are.
In the case of Mack, neither thing happened: He didn't make a decision before free agency and he didn't make one before the draft, which has left the 49ers in an awkward position.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch was asked about Mack's status before the start of the draft and he didn't seem to have an idea whether Mack was going to keep playing or retire.
"We've been in discussions with Alex, communicating with him and I think I would say, the common theme here today, I'm not going to speak for Alex on that," Lynch said on April 25 when asked if Mack would be retiring, via quotes from the team. "I think at the appropriate time, Alex will comment on that."
Although Mack could end up retiring, Lynch also noted that it's definitely possible that the seven-time Pro Bowler could turn for another season.
"I think that, yeah, that still remains a possibility," Lynch said. "He hasn't spoken on it with finality, but I think it does remain fluid."
At this point, it appears the 49ers are hoping that Mack returns, because they haven't really done anything to replace him. Although they drafted two offensive linemen over the weekend -- Spencer Burford and Nick Zakelj -- neither of those guys are expected to play center. The 49ers did sign an undrafted free agent who plays center (Dohnovan West out of Arizona State), but it's unlikely they're going to want to hand such a complicated job to a rookie who wasn't even drafted.
"It's a tough position to come in and play right away," Lynch said when asked if a rookie could play center.
That being said, Lynch did note that it wouldn't be impossible for a rookie to come in and start.
"One thing about our system, I don't think there's as much on the center in terms of making every protection call and things of that nature as a lot of systems," Lynch said. "Alex, we probably afforded him that opportunity because he was so capable, but that doesn't have to be the case. And so, there's things we can do."
One reason the 49ers haven't been pushing Mack to make a retirement decision right now is because he's been pretty busy this offseason. In the past month alone, Mack has gotten married and gone on his honeymoon.
More Shanahan on Alex Mack: "Everyone knows he can still play. Whatever is best for him and his family. He just got married and had an unbelievable honeymoon, so you don't want to ask those questions right when they come back."— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) May 1, 2022
Now that those two big life events are out of the way, the 36-year-old will have some time to think about his NFL future and because of that, it wouldn't be completely surprising if we see him make a decision before the end of the month.
If Mack does call it quits, the 49ers will definitely be in a pinch. If that happens, their two best options at center would likely be moving Daniel Brunskill to position or signing a veteran free agent like JC Tretter, Nick Martin or Matt Paradis.