The San Francisco 49ers could easily place the franchise tag on veteran kicker Robbie Gould in 2019, which opens up both the positive and negative aspects.
After all, Gould was essentially perfect since joining the Niners on a two-year deal back in 2017. His 97.1 and 95.1 field-goal conversion percentages in 2017 and 2018, respectively, rank first and second on the franchise’s single-season list of bests.
Yet, according to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, Gould and the 49ers aren’t close to making any sort of long-term commitment.
If no deal is reached by March 5, the Niners could apply a one-year franchise tag on Gould, which would cost just over $5 million fully guaranteed. It seems like a no-brainer choice, especially because it would at least give San Francisco a window to negotiate a new contract until July 15. If no deal is reached by that point, however, Gould would stay on the one-year franchise tag.
As simple a solution as it sounds, tagging Gould isn’t exactly a perfect scenario.
Let’s look at the pros and cons behind such a move.
Positives for 49ers Tagging Robbie Gould
The Chicago Bears’ playoff situation with their former kicker, Cody Parkey, illustrates just how important kickers can be in today’s NFL. Particularly in clutch situations.
Gould was responsible for 43.8 percent of the Niners’ points in 2017 and 36.8 percent of the team’s totals last year. And that 97.1 conversion percentage last year led the league.
Simply letting Gould walk in free agency doesn’t sound like the smartest of business moves. It would be one thing if San Francisco was hurting, cap-wise. But with over $65 million in projected cap space for 2019, it isn’t as if the 49ers are hurting for money.
The $5-plus million on the tag would be the highest amount of cash dished out for a kicker, at least based off current contracts. Yet the current regime of general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have repeatedly stated the preference to reward on-roster players, and such would be the case here.
Plus, if no deal winds up taking place between now and the start of free agency in March, San Francisco would at least have an extra period of time to negotiate a possible extension.
Negatives for 49ers Tagging Robbie Gould
Gould’s affinity for Chicago can’t be overlooked. His family spent 2018 there, while Gould remained in the Bay Area. And with the Bears letting go of Parkey, it’s certainly feasible they’ll monitor Gould, a long-time Bears special teams hero, and the Niners’ situation.
Plus, it’s rare any player gets excited about the franchise tag. Gould likely won’t be an exception.
One can’t overlook the possibility of Gould approaching the 49ers front office and requesting the team let him walk in free agency, thereby opening up the door for a reunion with the Bears. Is that a smart decision by San Francisco to do so? Probably not. But players take note of such things, and word spreads about the kind of relationships forged by players and front offices. If the Niners do end up granting a speculative request from Gould, that might carry weight elsewhere.
Financially speaking, the 49ers could still be better off letting Gould walk, or at least not using the franchise tag on him.
Remember that $5-plus million tag price? The next highest contract for a kicker is for the New England Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski with an average annual salary of $4.3 million per year.
That’s not a massive difference in the grand scheme of things. But with the Niners looking at soon-to-be extensions for players like defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, that’s the kind of money that could be better spent elsewhere.
Speaking of elsewhere, the Atlanta Falcons let go of veteran kicker Matt Bryant this offseason. Despite being 43 years old, Bryant converted 95.2 percent of his field-goal attempts last season — less than two points behind Gould’s conversion rate. And his average annual salary before the release was $3.5 million.
Perhaps Bryant winds up being a fall-back plan if the 49ers elect not to tag Gould and allow him to hit the open market.
In all likelihood, though, San Francisco probably starts off with the tag and sees where things go in terms of contract talks between now and July.