All-Decade left tackle Joe Staley’s time with the 49ers is coming to an end after 13 seasons.
It’s been a hell of a ride. Thank you pic.twitter.com/V2VB2xKDzp— Joe Staley (@jstaley74) April 25, 2020
On Monday, 49ers general manager John Lynch said he was confident that Staley would return for the 2020 season when he spoke to the local media. There were, however, many signs during the 2019 season that Staley was ruminating on the possibility of hanging up his cleats.
Immediately following the 49ers' nail-biting Week 17 win in Seattle, Staley left the field in tears.
“I was super emotional after that game,” Staley said in Seattle on Dec. 29. “Been a long time, haven’t won here since 2011. I was overcome with emotion on the field. I sprinted into the tunnel because I was getting choked up.”
Staley was equally emotional after the team’s 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
"You put your heart and soul and your entire life into being a Super Bowl champion and you get toward the end of your career and you realize how rare these opportunities are." Staley said after the loss. "The emotions are still raw and real for me right now.”
Staley, who turns 36 in August, had not spoken publicly about his plans for the future this offseason prior to Saturday.
Staley’s career with the 49ers began as the team’s first-round selection (No. 28 overall) in the 2007 draft. The Central Michigan product missed only 27 games over his 13-year career and has been a starter on the 49ers' offensive line since he stepped onto the field wearing red and gold. He spent his rookie season at right tackle before transitioning to the left side where he stayed for the next 12 seasons.
Since his arrival in Santa Clara, Staley has been one of the very few constants in a franchise that has been anything but. He survived six different head coaches, seven losing seasons, two 8-8 campaigns and two Super Bowl losses.
When the Lynch and Kyle Shanahan era began in 2017, Staley seriously contemplated retirement but the new regime convinced him to stay. The addition of Mike McGlinchey to the offensive line in 2018 seemed to rejuvenate the veteran as well, supplying him with a younger brother figure.
During the 2019 offseason, the 49ers and Staley agreed to a contract extension that would keep him with the 49ers through the 2021 season and ultimately the remainder of his NFL career.
Staley missed a career-high nine games in 2019 due to injuries, including a broken leg and a broken and dislocated finger. This may be part of what influenced the left tackle to forgo the final two seasons left on his contract.
There are plenty of prospects in this year’s NFL draft that would have been worthy of being Staley’s heir apparent at left tackle. Instead, the 49ers chose a known commodity in Williams. What never will be replaced is Staley’s one-of-a-kind humor and sarcasm in the locker room.