John Lynch confirmed on Thursday that the San Francisco 49ers landed their top two free agent targets in running back Jerick McKinnon and center Weston Richburg.
The latter is probably a bit more surprising than the former. Not because Richburg isn't a fine player, but because most probably expected the 49ers to prioritize finding help at guard. San Francisco had already re-signed Daniel Kilgore which left guard as the more glaring void.
But Richburg's lucrative five-year contract makes a lot more sense when you consider just how much Kyle Shanahan values the center position. The addition of Pro Bowler Alex Mack provided a huge boost to Shanahan's offense with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. The 49ers head coach sees similar potential in Richburg, so much so that San Francisco felt comfortable trading Kilgore to the Miami Dolphins.
"When you have a center of the level of Alex or Weston, it changes a lot of things, things that people don't totally realize," Shanahan began explaining. "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 a one-back and now the WILL has to walk outside the box and the angles to the MIKE aren't as good, but you've got a center who can get there on his own and doesn't need the help.
"It allows you to do a bunch of different stuff. It puts more pressure on the center. It puts versatility in everything you can do, not just with the center but what your guards and tackles can do. It helps solidify the entire o-line. That's usually where it starts. There are a lot of good players, but when you have a difference maker at that position, I've found in my career that it's been a lot easier to run an offense."
There's no doubt that Shanahan will put a lot on Richburg's plate, both in making checks pre-snap and what's required of him post-snap. That's why you can also bet that Shanahan did his homework. When Shanahan put on the tape, he saw a center capable of being one of the league's best.
"He's put it all there on tape, and he's right there with all of those guys. That's why I value him a ton. We were going for him from the beginning. … I think he can add a lot to our run game and to our pass game and make a lot of other guys' jobs easier."
Richburg expressed similar excitement to be handpicked by Shanahan. The center spent his first four seasons with the New York Giants after being taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Now he'll move across the country as a key cog in San Francisco's quest towards a return to the postseason.
"I'm very excited to be here," Richburg said on Thursday, "Everybody I've met has been very warm and welcoming. To be a part of this culture and a part of this environment is something that I'm very excited about."
The center added that he's felt the good vibes stemming from the 49ers five-game winning streak to close the 2017 season.
"It looked like there were a lot of great things ahead," Richburg said. "That's how I feel being here today. I'm excited about what's in store for us and what we can do as an offense."
Next up for Richburg is to reacquaint himself with Jimmy Garoppolo. The two were both selected in the second round of the same draft and met briefly at the 2014 Senior Bowl. Their chemistry will be vital to the production of San Francisco's offense.
"A bond between a center and quarterback is crucial," Richburg said. "I think it's awesome that we're the same age. I'm looking forward to working it him."
Shanahan has his quarterback and he has his center. Now we wait to see how the coach's picture perfect pairing will help the 49ers win games in 2018.