Weston Richburg takes center stage after signing with 49ers

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On March 9, 2016, the Atlanta Falcons reeled in their top free-agent target, center Alex Mack. He signed a five-year, $45 million deal that came with $28.5 million in guarantees.

Two years and five days later, the San Francisco 49ers landed their top free-agent target, center Weston Richburg. On March 14, the Niners lured Richburg from the New York Giants with a five-year, $47.5 million contract with $28.5 million in guarantees.

The common denominator in both deals, aside from the nearly identical terms? Niners coach Kyle Shanahan. Much like he championed bringing Mack from the Cleveland Browns to Atlanta, Shanahan saw in Richburg similar qualities that could help his offense take off in his second season with the Niners — just as it did in his second year as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator.

In every scheme, certain positions are valued more than others. Sure, quarterbacks and pass-rushers will always take precedence, but there’s no doubt Shanahan puts a premium on pivots.

“When you have a center at the level of what you’re talking about with Alex or with Weston, it changes a lot of things, things that people don’t totally realize,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes you have to get in certain personnel groupings to help someone have an angle to a Mike linebacker so you can help your center out with the guard. Sometimes you go into one-back. Now a Will [linebacker] is going to walk outside the box, the angles aren’t as good, but you’ve got a center who can reach someone on his own and doesn’t need the help. So it allows you to do a bunch of different stuff.

“It puts some more pressure on that player … [but] it really helps the versatility in everything you can do. Not just at the center, but what your guards and tackles can do on other positions. It really helps solidify the whole O-line. … There’s a lot of good players,reebok nfl jerseys but when you have a difference-maker at that position — what I’ve found and I’ve experienced through my career — it’s been a lot easier to run an offense.”

Richburg doesn’t come to the Bay Area with the same résumé that Mack brought to the Falcons. Mack is a five-time Pro Bowl player who is widely regarded as one of the best centers in the league. It’s a reputation he had in Cleveland and has only grown since he got to Atlanta.