In a pinch, Niners sign Lynch

The 49ers finally came to their senses Thursday and signed veteran Ben Lynch, a quality backup center who performed admirably in that role last year but whom the team was determined to do without this season. But with their offensive line teeming with injuries and undeveloped players, the Niners realized Lynch was a luxury they could little afford to do without.

Affording Lynch always was the issue with the Niners. Despite his fine play early last season when Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry was lost to an ankle injury, the team had hoped to get by without Lynch's veteran salary, since he only plays one position, and the Niners had several versatile guards and were bringing in some rookie offensive linemen who possibly could serve as Newberry's backup in a pinch.

But with injuries to Newberry and Ron Stone creating havoc and plenty of shuffling along the offensive line, and a collection of young center prospects not exactly distinguishing themselves, the Niners went for the sensible solution.

"If we'd stayed healthy, we probably wouldn't have needed to do this," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said Thursday. "So we just felt with our health situation and our depth situation, we just needed to bring in another guy who knows what's going on. It's good to have him back. He's familiar with everything we're doing. Our quarterbacks are familiar with him, with the snaps, and he'll give us a heck of a lot more depth."

Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia was so happy to see Lynch back with the team that, while Lynch was talking with a few writers, Garcia strolled by and said, "Ben Lynch, it's great to have you back. You're the man! Now the ball can stay off the ground and we can get some snaps down."

This is a decision the Niners should have made as soon as Newberry went down in camp, if not sooner. But Lynch had no animosity about the team making him wait.

"This is a business," he said. "I don't ever think it's a personal thing. With the salary cap and free agency, there's a whole lot more factors involved. That was it. I didn't take it personal at all. I knew something was going to happen eventually. I knew eventually that I'd be playing football again. And I'm just so happy it's back here. It's a great place to play."

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