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NFL Free Agency: 49ers expected to use franchise tag on Robbie Gould

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NFL Free Agency: 49ers expected to use franchise tag on Robbie Gould

A year ago, the 49ers avoided using their franchise tag as a last resort on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo when the sides agreed to a five-year contract extension that, for about a month, made him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

The two-week window during which time NFL teams may designate a franchise player opens on Tuesday. And for the first time in seven years, the odds appear high the 49ers will use that option.

If the 49ers are unable to work out a multi-year contract extension with kicker Robbie Gould, it would be a major surprise if the club did not use the tag to restrict his ability to sign with another team.

The 49ers have not used the franchise tag designation since 2012 with safety Dashon Goldson.

The 49ers have plenty of salary-cap space to absorb a significant pay raise for Gould. The club is expected to have $67.5 million in cap room at the start of the new league year, according to figures from the NFL Players Association and overthecap.com.

The franchise tag for a kicker is expected to be approximately $5 million for one season. Gould signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency in 2017.

Gould was exceptional in his two seasons with the 49ers, making 72 of 75 field-goal attempts. He ranks as the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, making 87.745 percent of his field-goal attempts in his 14-year career.

What makes Gould’s accuracy even more impressive is that he spent 11 seasons in notoriously difficult Soldier Field with the Chicago Bears. His family remained in Chicago last season, and the Bears could be interested in re-signing Gould, if the 49ers do not tag him as a franchise player.

The 49ers figure to be in a lot of close games next season, and their kicker could be in a position to decide games. Levi’s Stadium has proven to be a tough place to kick due to his wind issues from the opening in the northwest corner of the facility. The 49ers appear to value the importance of employing a veteran kicker who is capable of dealing with the challenges.

Toward the end of the season, Gould seemed receptive to the idea of working out a deal to return to the 49ers. Gould’s impact was also felt off the field. He was also selected as the 49ers’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

“It’s been a really, really awesome two years here,” Gould said on the 49ers Insider Podcast in December. “Obviously, the records haven’t been what people might think they’d be. But as an older player, you can understand what they’re building. You can understand what it looks like, just because you’ve seen all types of situations in the last 14 years.

“I think these young guys getting playing time is something that we need for next year because if we didn’t have it this year, and it just so happens to start next year, some of those mistakes that could be made ... can cost you a football game.”

[RELATED: If 49ers add running back in offseason, who drops off the depth chart?]

Here is a look at the 49ers’ history of the franchise tag:

2012: Safety Dashon Goldson
2010: Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin
2004-2005: Linebacker Julian Peterson
1999: *Wide receiver Terrell Owens
1993: *Quarterback Steve Young

*-Signed long-term contract extensions.

Rob Gronkowski happy 49ers' George Kittle takes position to 'another level'

Rob Gronkowski happy 49ers' George Kittle takes position to 'another level'

MIAMI, Fla. -- Last season, perhaps the best tight end in NFL history called it a career after winning the Super Bowl. 

Rob Gronkowski walked away from the game at the age of 29 last season, but his throne wasn't left unoccupied as 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce have taken the mantle from Gronk. 

Like Gronkowski, Kittle and Kelce have helped propel their teams to the biggest stage in sports as the 49ers and Chiefs will meet Sunday at Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Both star tight ends also have big personalities, like Gronk, and the former Patriots star likes seeing two star talents who can be themselves both on and off the field. 

"Possibly," Gronkowski told the media Tuesday when asked if he might have influenced Kittle and Kelce. "It's good to see that, though. To see the personality of Kelce and Kittle, both on and off the field. They are a lot of fun to watch while playing the game and also they are a lot of fun off the field. I met them both, they are fantastic guys. I bet you they are fantastic to work with and I bet you they are fantastic teammates too. They just bring it in all aspects, which is great to see. And If I influenced them in that way, to just be themselves, then that's great to hear and that gives me that motivation to keep on going and being that way. Hopefully, they stay true to themselves because they are great players and great dudes. It's going to be fun to watch."

Gronkowski's rise with the Patriots put the tight end position back on the map after Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates exited their primes. The way the Patriots used an athletic, do-it-all tight end, who also loved to be a bulldozer in the run game, inspired other teams to put more of an emphasis on that position.

With Kittle and Kelce, along with Raiders star Darren Waller and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, Gronk's position now has become one of the most vital in the NFL, something he's excited to see. 

"Talking about the tight end position, it's definitely evolved over the last 10 years or so," Gronkowski said. "If you really think about it man, there were some great tight ends. But now, there are offenses focused around tight ends. I would say it started with Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, those guys started it off. Then, guys like myself took the reins. Now you have Kelce and Kittle taking it to another level. The top two tight ends -- I won a Super Bowl last year and now the top two tight ends are in the Super Bowl. The tight end position just keeps on transcending up, it just keeps on getting the recognition it deserves. I feel like back in the day it didn't really get the recognition, but now it is. It's great to see players like Kelce and Kittle out there doing what they need to do."

While both Kittle and Kelce are all-world players, the 49ers star is the one who most reminds Gronkowski of himself due to his love of eviscerating people in the running game.

[RELATED: How Alex Smith helped develop Patrick Mahomes during rookie season]

A year after his record-breaking season, Kittle battled through ankle, knee and shoulder injuries to be one of the key cogs for a 49ers team that went 13-3 and now is one win away from the Super Bowl. He hasn't been asked to do much in the passing game during the playoffs, but has been quite content to stick his hand in the dirt and pave the way for Raheem Mostert and the 49ers' dominant running game. 

Frank Clark might not care about his matchup with Kittle on Sunday, but he's certainly going to have his hands full trying to beat a guy who relishes in demoralizing opponents with his blocking. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

Why Kyle Shanahan 'freaked out' on Robert Saleh with 49ers game in hand

Why Kyle Shanahan 'freaked out' on Robert Saleh with 49ers game in hand

MIAMI, Fla. — With a few minutes left on the game clock in the NFC Divisional Playoff, the 49ers were up 27-10 over the Minnesota Vikings. Hosting the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium was a lock. 

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh wanted to lighten the load of his starting linemen and get the backups some reps. It was the first playoff game for the 49ers since 2013, but Saleh was feeling confident that the game was in the bag. Little did he know, Kyle Shanahan did not approve.  

“I freaked out at Saleh when he tried to take the starters out in Green Bay, or was it Minnesota?” Shanahan said Tuesday. “Yeah, it was Minnesota when we were up like three scores with two minutes to go and I freaked out. 

“And then I did the math and I thought it was alright, but you get some scars from that stuff.”

Shanahan still feels the effects of the Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl LI when he was the offensive coordinator for the club. Blowing the infamous 28-3 lead left a traumatic mark on the 49ers coach that likely will never disappear. 

“Everybody asks what I learned from that Super Bowl and everything,” Shanahan said. “I wish I could say there was some easy answer that would have fixed us not blowing that lead but you know, I go back and am hard on myself about everything. 

“I know the plays I wish I would have called differently, especially the second-and-11 pass once we got down there that led to a sack, so I wish I called a run there, but that was about it.” 

Shanahan will never take the foot off the gas again, especially when facing top quarterback, like Patriots Tom Brady. Shanahan felt similar pangs of stress in the NFC Championship Game with a 14-point lead on the Green Bay Packers knowing all too well what Aaron Rodgers is capable of.  

[RELATED: Shanahan convinced Sherman to sign with 49ers over Lions]

The situation will be no different on Super Bowl Sunday against the speed of the Kansas City Chiefs' offense and the incredible talents of Patrick Mahomes, who quickly racked up 41 unanswered points on the Houston Texans in the divisional round after falling behind 24-0. Shanahan will want to keep the 49ers' starters on the field no matter what the scoreboard reads. 

“You realize when playing against good teams and good quarterbacks that you can never relax.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.