Too Cool for Skule: Which Options at Offensive Tackle are Right for the 49ers?
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
What to Do at Left Tackle?
The San Francisco 49ers’ Week 2 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals nearly proved that some afternoons could be right and honest in the world.
Well, almost right and honest.
Thirteen-year veteran Joe Staley went down with a lower leg injury with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. It was later determined he fractured his fibula, and he is expected to miss roughly eight weeks of football.
Staley’s injury creates some black storm clouds on what was a bright, sunny horizon. As I’ve noted in previous commentaries, the 49ers were one offensive line injury away from a severe problem.
I am profoundly sorry that the omen came true.
General manager John Lynch has a handful of options to find a player to fill in for Staley.
Move Mike McGlinchey; Pray for Justin Skule
I’m half expecting Lynch not to make a single move to fill in for Staley, and sell the Faithful on rookie tackle Justin Skule. In fact, I would not be surprised to hear Lynch or head coach Kyle Shanahan give a few lines to the press sound like this:
“We like Justin Skule. He’s a talented tackle, and we drafted him to help us win football games. He’s a leader in the locker room, and we’re confident in what he brings to the 49ers.”
Lynch has burned me too many times with these nonsense lines about far below-average football players. He’s heaped praise on free agents who don’t deserve a contract, only to waive them during final cuts.
Skule was not a memorable performer in the preseason, but in his defense, none of the 49ers’ possible back-up linemen played well. Skule’s best game in the preseason was Week 4 – when all the starters are watching on the sidelines with a mouthful of Beechnut chewing tobacco. The men he faced are now on a practice squad or a couch, waiting for an NFL team to call.
So, here’s my most optimistic look about this option.
There is no way Shanahan should let Skule protect Garoppolo’s blindside. Should the 49ers choose to play Skule, the only option the team has is to move second-year right tackle Mike McGlinchey to the left side and place Skule on the right.
If you’re a religious person, I highly recommend prayer, animal sacrifice, or whatever your deity requests to bring righteousness to the universe. The 49ers need it, and Skule needs every ounce of grace from across the galaxy and cosmos to ensure Jimmy Garoppolo does not die.
Trade for Someone Not Named Trent Williams
Washington’s tackle Trent Williams has not played football in ten months. He hasn’t played a full season of football in six years, averaging 13 games per season. He’s missed all of training camp and the preseason.
I have no problem with the man’s ability to play football – he was named as a second-team All-Pro tackle in 2015 and has played in seven Pro Bowls.
I struggle with the idea Williams can step in tomorrow, absorb 80 to 90 plays and play football at a high, intense level. Additionally, I do question paying top dollar for a player with durability issues.
With that in mind, Lynch needs to offer a third-round draft pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Chukwuma Okorafor. This strategy would be in line with Lynch’s standard offensive line playbook – he can get an unknown, young lineman on the cheap. Then, we can all join Lynch and hope nothing further happens to the 49ers’ front five over the next eight to nine weeks.
Okorafor played sporadically last season, racking up just under 160 total snaps at both left and right tackle. He allowed one sack, four hurries, and five pressures – all against Denver. That was his only full game, and that stat line makes me a bit nervous. But, at least he has some experience against top talent.
Yes, I’m not ignorant of who the 49ers play this Sunday. The likelihood of this trade happening this week and Okorafor learning a brand new offensive terminology in four days have the same chance of me scoring over 1,000 on an SAT. But, there’s no reason the transaction wouldn’t happen during the bye week or after the 49ers have seen enough from Skule.
Okay. Sign Trent Williams
There’s a lot of Twitter chatter about the dangers of Lynch leveraging the future to sign a player like Williams.
Well, Gentle Reader, the problem Lynch is in today is his of his own making. The lack of offensive line depth is squarely on his shoulders. The world knew the 49ers needed to add quality talent to the offensive line’s depth chart; Lynch and Shanahan refused to heed that call.
Lynch did bring in a handful of offensive linemen during the offseason. Who could forget such memorable players like Willie Beavers and Wesley Johnson? I forgot the team kept Daniel Brunskill and placed undrafted free agent guard Ross Reynolds on the practice squad.
I curse my faulty memory! Of course, these men will pave the way for Jostens to craft at least Super Bowl rings for the 49ers.
Injury or not, Joe Staley will not play for the 49ers forever. Lynch would not be leveraging the future if he signed Williams. It might be time to deal defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, along with a second-round draft pick to Washington for Williams. The 49ers could get another five years of service from Williams, shoring up the tackle position for the foreseeable future.
At that point, Lynch would only need to make improvements to the guard positions in the 2020 offseason, though I doubt he’ll even bother with it.
All of these options lead to one solution: It’s time to coat Joe Staley’s bones in adamantium. It’s the only logical solution.
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