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Nate Clements, 8 years, $80 million. Michael Lewis, 6 years, $30 million. Tully Banta-Cain, 3 years, $8.7 million. Aubrayo Franklin, 3 years, $6 million. Ashley Lelie, 2 years, $4 million.
While these names should be mentioned in any conversation about the 49er's playoff chances this season, a few others should not be forgotten as well.
Tarik Glenn, Marvel Smith, Matt Light, Roman Oben, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace.
These are the men protecting the blind side of the last six quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl. While only Ogden and Pace stand out as elite performers, all have been steady, reliable and healthy during their teams run to the Super Bowl. So while Clements, Lewis, Banta-Cain and others grab headlines this offseason as evidence of an improved, playoff ready San Francisco team, the man still on the hot seat remains Jonas Jennings.
While Jennings did suit up for 13 games in 2006, 10 more than the previous season, he has yet to play a full season during his six years in the NFL. But this is not to say he has been a bust. With a healthy Jennings along side future hall-of-famer Larry Allen, the 49ers have a left side of the line equal to the most talented in the league, making it all the more critical for Jennings to stay away from the training table and in the face of 70 million dollar defenders.
While the 49ers do have the third easiest schedule in the league this season, it is not without its challenges. The 49ers play half their schedule against teams that ranked in the top 12 in the league in sack totals last season, two of which – Seattle and Arizona – play in the NFC West. The season could come down to a stretch of seven games - between September 23 and November 12 - when San Francisco plays five of these teams.
Fortunately, the 49ers are equipped with better insurance than in years past with offensive line depth that has not been seen since the Super Bowl era. Adam Snyder could very well push Kwame Harris for the right tackle spot, but if Harris remains the starter, will provide an excellent fill-in when the inevitable injury bug plagues Jennings again. Also, the 49ers landed Central Michigan tackle Joe Staley, who although still a raw project, could be ready by mid-season as an adequate spot starter. However, the thought of Staley lining up against Julius Peppers or Simeon Rice should make even the toughest of 49er fans to cringe.
While 49er fans should hope for plenty more end zone appearances from Vernon Davis, Arnaz Battle and newcomers Darrel Jackson, Jason Hill and Lelie, the key to the Super Bowl castle lies directly in the hands of Jonas Jennings.