Niners Have Options if Boone Holdout Continues

Joe Looney appears to be "next man up" if Boone -- ranked among NFL's best guards, but still playing with a backup's contract -- stays away from training camp

It won’t be official that Alex Boone is a holdout until July 23, when veterans are due to report to 49ers training camp.

But there’s every indication so far that Boone will be a no-show, and the Niners will begin work toward the 2014 season without their starting right guard.

Boone and tight end Vernon Davis both held out during the recent full-squad mimicamp, unhappy with their deals. But since then Davis has indicated he’s probably not going to force the issue. It’s likely that No. 85 will report on time.

Boone, however, is a different story.

Boone, a starter the past two seasons, has two years left on his contract that’s reported to be worth $2 million this coming season, plus a roster bonus of $200,000; he’s due to get $1.2 million in 2015.

That contract is an absolute bargain for the 49ers, notes the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows, because Boone signed his current deal when he was a backup offensive tackle. But he’s started 38 games since then and become another physical presence on an offensive line that ranks as one of the NFL’s best. Now Boone’s salary ranks below 40 other guards in the league, reported Barrows, creating a huge “disonnect between Boone’s salary and his output.”

In his first season as a starter two years ago, he committed just three penalties and was dominating as a run blocker. Pro Football Focus graded Boone as the third-best guard in the NFL in 2012 and has him at No. 11 overall over the past two seasons. So Boone, obviously, has done everything asked of him and more.

Boone, 27, is huge at 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, but is mobile and athletic. When he pulls out in front of running backs or gets past the line of scrimmage, he’s been a devastating blocker.

“When he gets out in space, he can get rolling a bit like an 18-wheeler going down a hill,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman once said of Boone. Roman, in fact, has been a big believer in Boone’s abilities and work ethic.

“Alex is the kind of guy we want, pushing to get better every week,” said Roman during Boone’s first season as a starter. “He’s doing a great job.” Added 49ers offensive line coach Mike Solari, to Grantland reporter Robert Mays last season: “The way (Boone) attacks and the way he plays the game is just beautiful to watch if you love line play.”

But if Boone’s holdout continues and the 49ers don’t budge in offering him a new deal, where does that leave the 49ers?

They do have a few options, with the No. 1 plan being Joe Looney, who’s been taking the first-string snaps in Boone’s absence. There’s also rookie Marcus Martin, drafted as a center from USC (but with guard experence) and veteran Adam Snyder.

Looney, a 6-foot-3, 315-pounder drafted in the fourth round from Wake Forest in 2012, hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time in his short career, but did get 62 snaps against the Rams last season when tackle Joe Staley was injured, Boone shifted to left tackle and Looney played right guard in that game. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch reports Looney graded out very well in that game. And Roman says Looney has done well stepping in for Boone during offseason workouts and practices.

“He’s really shown himself well,” Roman told the Chronicle. “I’m excited about what he’s been able to do with the opportunities. So it’s next man up. That’s just how it goes.”

But will the 49ers really feel comfortable going with Looney over Boone in 2014? Right now, it doesn’t seem likely. But if Looney continues to impress – especially during exhibition games – it might give the 49ers more leverage in their negotiations with Boone.

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