The San Francisco 49ers have 14 potential unrestricted free agents who would hit the open market when the new league year begins on Tuesday. Let’s continue our countdown with a three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman who was once named All Pro.
LG Mike Iupati
A first-round pick of the Niners, No. 17 overall in 2010 out of Idaho, Iupati was recently tabbed the best 49ers free agent -- the 12th-best in the league -- in a poll by ESPN NFL Nation’s Kevin Seifert and ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson.
49ers career: A mauler at left guard, Iupati started every game in his first three seasons before missing four in 2013 and one last year with a concussion. Injury -- a nagging elbow injury kept him out of the Pro Bowl -- and ineffectiveness slowed him last year, as he was also coming back from a broken ankle suffered in the previous January’s NFC title game. The Niners veering away from a power-running game and more toward a spread-passing attack did Iupati no favors, either.
Argument for keeping Iupati: The Niners insist they are returning to that vaunted power-running attack in 2015 and that would play to Iupati’s strengths. Why break up a good thing, right? Hey, his plus-18.5 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus was second among all NFL guards.
Argument for letting Iupati walk: Sure, the 49ers say they will run the ball more, but incoming/returning O-line coach Chris Foerster was more of a zone-blocking scheme guy at his last stop in Washington, and that’s not Iupati’s strength. Besides, Iupati’s minus-7.5 pass-blocking grade was 55th among 78 guards, per PFF.
A bold prediction: A change of scenery can do Iupati good and he leaves for another team attempting a makeover. Washington is interested.