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49ers should consider move for former star tackle who just hit free agency



© Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

If you’re going to allow three sacks in a game, T.J. Watt is on a shortlist of people you’d prefer to allow them to. That’s what happened to Colton McKivitz on Sunday, in his first real appearance as the 49ers’ defined starter at right tackle.

McKivitz should improve, and the 49ers can clearly win with him. But if you can upgrade, especially for cheap, it’s malpractice not to at least consider it.

McKivitz is not anywhere near an elite talent. La’El Collins is.

On Tuesday, the Bengals cut Collins from the physically unable to perform list, saving a reported $7.4 million in cap space.

He signed a three-year, $20 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals last offseason, and struggled mightily in the first half of the season. He improved in the second half of the year before tearing his ACL and MCL against the New England Patriots in Week 16 and finished 57th out of 64 tackles in pass block win rate. He underwent knee reconstruction in January and dealt with a back injury in Cincinnati.

Yikes. And you’re saying the 49ers should consider this guy?


From the 49ers’ perspective, this is a proposition of why not?

They don’t have to pick up that roughly $7.4 million.

Collins would likely come in cheap, near the veteran minimum, but perhaps with some incentives on a one-year deal.

The 49ers created more than $41 million in cap space, and while they’d like to roll plenty of that over into next season, they’re ready to win now. This is a move that could absolutely be worth a few million. And if it costs more than that, then don’t pursue it.

San Francisco doesn’t need Collins right away, and might not need him at all. They can sign him, place him on injured reserve, and give him whatever time he needs to build himself back up from his surgery, which he reportedly needs another four-to-six weeks to recover from. They could also wait, check on on his recovery, and make a move then, though another team would likely sign him by then.

Now, there’s a very good chance that Collins just won’t be the same.

But to suggest a team should assess a prospective free agent is not the same as saying they have to sign them.

If the 49ers don’t feel confident Collins can get healthy and get back to what he was, absolutely, pass on him.

But, being that they are in a position where he isn’t needed right away, it could be a great fit. He played in a similar offensive system with Cincinnati, and even if he just becomes a depth piece down the line, it might be worth a spin of the wheel.

San Francisco currently has Matt Pryor, the hulking, 6-foot-7-inch, more than 350-pound tackle as McKivitz’s backup. He looked like a reliable pass protector and terrible run blocker in training camp and the preseason.

Maybe the 49ers feel comfortable enough to stick with what they have without sniffing around the market as the season progresses. It’s possible, but would seem a foolish approach.

If he can get healthy, Collins would be a massively low risk, high-reward option. It’s the same thesis as when the 49ers spun the wheel on Jason Verrett, who they got a tremendous 2020 season out of. 

Again, this is not saying “the 49ers must sign La’El Collins.”

But right tackle, along with corner, is one of just two positions the team could very clearly upgrade at. It would be mismanagement not to assess an option to do so for cheap.