The 49ers plan to sign Giants offensive lineman Weston Richburg, who has played guard and center over his four-year career, to a five-year deal when free agency begins, ESPN reported on Tuesday.
Richburg, 26, began his career at left guard before moving to center in his second season. Richburg hadn't missed a game due to injury until last year when a concussion ended his season after just four games. He told New York area reporters that doctors cleared him several weeks later but that the Giants needed his roster spot and placed him on injured reserve, thus ending his season.
Richburg measured 6-foot-3, 298 pounds when coming out of Colorado State four years ago. That's small for an NFL guard, but the position has been trending in that direction. He's also quick off the snap and has good body control, which are assets in Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme.
He's also been a strong pass protector, something that's become even more paramount since the 49ers signed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to an NFL-record, five-year deal. San Francisco allowed 43 sacks last year, which tied for seventh most in the NFL. Most of the pressure came from the interior of the line.
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Richburg's former Giants teammate, Geoff Schwartz, told The Bee there was no question in his mind where Shanahan wants Richburg to play.
"He's going to play center," said Schwartz, who spent eight seasons in the NFL and who now works for SiriusXM NFL radio. "I've been asked that a bunch today. I know what (Kyle) Shanahan said last week about Daniel Kilgore. That was last week. I don't expect them to sign Weston to the money that they did and then not put him at his best position, which is center."
Schwartz was with the Giants when they used a second-round pick on Richburg in 2014. He also has trained alongside Richburg in Arizona under the eye of one-time center and current trainer LeCharles Bentley.
"He had to play guard his first year, which is probably not his best position," Schwartz said. "Because we had some injuries – mainly because I got hurt."
Schwartz said Richburg was sharp – "He knows the game. He knows the tricks. He knows what defenses are doing," he said – and most importantly had the ability to make the reach blocks on nose tackles and defensive linemen that are critical in Shanahan's system.
"You have to do that," Schwartz said. "That's not a 'maybe' thing in his offense. That's a requirement for that offense. And he believes Weston can do that for him. It was a priority to sign a player that could do that. And Weston's young and it makes perfect sense."
The 49ers last month signed their 2017 center, Kilgore, to a modest, three-year, $11.75 million contract extension. "We plan on Dan being our center," Shanahan said earlier this month at the scouting combine.
The 49ers have yet to comment on their offensive-line alignment, but they likely will let the various positions sort themselves out in the offseason and training camp.
That's what they did last year when Kilgore beat out veterans Jeremy Zuttah and Tim Barnes for the starting center job.
The situation at guard also is blurry. Brandon Fusco played right guard for most of 2017. He's scheduled to be a free agent on Wednesday and the 49ers are not expected to make him a top priority to re-sign.
Laken Tomlinson, who is signed for one more season, played left guard last year. Among those also in the mix at the position are former first-round pick Joshua Garnett and 2017 undrafted rookie Erik Magnuson.
In other free-agent news, the NFL Network reported that Seahawks free-agent cornerback DeShawn Shead had visits scheduled with the Lions Tuesday and the 49ers after that. Seattle released Shead on Monday.
Shead, 28, fits the profile for a 49ers outside cornerback in that he's 6-2, 212 pounds. He's started 21 games over the last four seasons, though last season he was coming back from a torn ACL and meniscus injuries suffered in the 2016 playoffs and spent most of the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
Shead, who is from Palmdale, of course, is familiar to new 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman.
The 49ers also are in the market at running back and are reportedly interested in Dion Lewis and Jerick McKinnon among others.