San Francisco 49ers: Breaking down Joe Staley’s timeline in 2019 and beyond

Joe Staley #74 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Staley #74 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Veteran San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is approaching the twilight of his career, prompting questions about how long he’ll stick around in the NFL after 2019.

It’s going to be weird eventually seeing a San Francisco 49ers team without veteran left tackle Joe Staley on the roster.

But that time is coming sooner than later.

Staley will turn 35 years old this summer before the 2019 regular season begins, meaning he’s awfully close to reaching the end of his career. Thankfully, the six-time Pro Bowler is still playing at a high level. Last season, Pro Football Focus awarded the veteran with an 82.2 overall grade — sixth best among all qualifying tackles and an indication he still has plenty left to offer at the pro level.

That said, Staley has an uncertain future beyond this season.

The six-year contract Staley signed back in 2014 expires after the upcoming season, which means he’ll be slated to hit free agency unless the Niners offer some sort of extension in the meantime. It’s hard to consider Staley signing elsewhere in 2020, yet it’s a possibility one has to examine.

Much of it will depend on what Staley’s remaining goals are, should he elect to keep playing after this upcoming season.

A chief goal, of course, would be finally winning a Super Bowl — something Staley and the 49ers came close to doing back in early 2013. If the Niners are still a ways off from seriously contending in 2020, however, it’s possible Staley could move on.

“Where’s my agent? I’ve never had to deal with this,” Staley told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch last December. “I’m just focused on coming back for one more year. After that, we’ll see.”

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco predicted Staley likely plays for two or three more seasons. That works two ways. First, if San Francisco is contending late this year or into 2020, that would certainly strengthen the possibility Staley signs an extension of some kind. If the 49ers aren’t much further along in the rebuild process — opening up a slew of other questions and concerns, of course — there’s a good chance Staley would be open to finishing his career elsewhere, most likely with a top contender in need of veteran presence up front.

The Niners, however, have a long-term contingency plan in place for the eventuality of Staley’s departure, second-year pro Mike McGlinchey, whom the team grabbed in Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft.

McGlinchey, who believes Staley is worthy of placement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is being groomed to take over that vital anchor spot along San Francisco’s offensive line.

But by potentially filling one spot by bumping McGlinchey over to the left side, the 49ers would be opening up another hole, whenever that happens.

A good indication of when the Niners anticipate Staley not being on the roster at some point soon would be the team’s actions in the NFL Draft, the 2019 edition kicking off later this month. Should San Francisco spend a relatively top pick on a tackle, that would be an indication general manager John Lynch isn’t entirely confident Staley sticks around in 2020.

Likewise, not picking a potential replacement is a pretty solid answer, too, only in the other direction. For now, at least.

Either way, it’s something the Niners have to start thinking about in a hard way sooner than later.

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