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.”
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.