San Francisco 49ers

Changing of the guard: 49ers' Lynch happy about offensive-line improvements

San Francisco 49ers offensive linemen Norman Price (63), Joshua Garnett (65) and Colin Kelly perform a drill during an NFL football practice in Santa Clara, Calif., Wednesday, June 8, 2016.
San Francisco 49ers offensive linemen Norman Price (63), Joshua Garnett (65) and Colin Kelly perform a drill during an NFL football practice in Santa Clara, Calif., Wednesday, June 8, 2016. AP

John Lynch said Thursday that the 49ers signed well-traveled free agent Jonathan Cooper this week to compete for one of the team's guard spots.

Which spot? Lynch said that will be sorted out in the offseason, but it's safe to say he and the 49ers are happier about the competition at guard than they were at this point a year ago. San Francisco surrendered 43 sacks last season – tied for 10th most in the league – with most of the pressure coming from the interior. They didn't draft any guards in 2017 and made several additions to the position – signing Brandon Fusco and Tim Barnes; trading for Laken Tomlinson – after the draft.

The NFL Network reported that Cooper's one-year deal is worth as much as $4.95 million and includes a $2 million signing bonus. Cooper is on his fourth team in five seasons, and before he joins the 49ers competition he must fully recover from MCL surgery from January. He started the last 13 games in 2017 for the Dallas Cowboys at left guard before the injury occurred in the season finale.

"He played very well, in our minds, for Dallas last year," Lynch said. "And he kind of resurrected his career. He's battled injuries, but we really like the way he played and we feel he's a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to have him."

As for the other competitors, it seems as if another player will have to come in and take the starting spot from left guard Tomlinson, whom the 49ers acquired Aug. 31 and who started 15 games beginning in Week 2.

"Laken played very well last year the longer he was there," Lynch said. "I think people forget with Laken -- he came in in Week 1. And so he kind of was force-fed. And we didn't have many options. We saw a guy get better throughout the season. So he'll get his opportunities."

The bigger competition may be at right guard where Joshua Garnett could see plenty of snaps this offseason. He went on injured reserve with a knee issue in August and spent the season re-shaping his body from one that operated in Stanford's power-blocking scheme to one that can handle the movement of Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking system.

Lynch said Garnett was fully cleared for practice.

"We'll continue to watch him but he did a great job embracing the time he had last year to improve himself as a player," he said. "… He really remade his body and we're really proud of the work he's done and looking forward to seeing him get after it in the offseason."

Lynch added: "And I think he's excited about it – feeling sexy, as he says."

The other two contenders are a pair of jack-of-all trades linemen, veteran Zane Beadles and second-year player Erik Magnuson. Each can play all five spots on the line in a pinch.

"The nice thing with Magnuson – he can and did play it all," Lynch said. "He played right tackle, he played guard, he can play center. That becomes very valuable. He was a nice surprise last season."

Does that mean the 49ers won't draft a guard? Some believe there's a chance the top guard in the draft, Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson, could fall to the 49ers at pick No. 9.

"We'll see," Lynch said. "We'll see there, and we're always looking to get better there."

The 49ers still have $45 million in salary cap space, among the top 10 in the NFL, and that money is being saved to re-sign their own players. San Francisco 49ers insider Matt Barrows tells you who the top 3 candidates are for re-signing.

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