The news of veteran tackle Joe Staley retiring during the NFL Draft was a shocker, but he informed the San Francisco 49ers well before news broke over the weekend.
Weeks before the 2020 NFL Draft, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco suggested a “50-50″ chance Staley would return after going through a number of injuries en route to the Niners’ Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“They just have to assume he’s not coming back,” Maiocco said of the Niners’ anticipation of Staley’s return. “Even if he does, he’s not going to be around for too much longer.”
Turns out, the “much longer” statement extended no further than the NFL Draft.
Any wonderment was confirmed on day three of the draft when San Francisco executed a blockbuster trade for veteran Washington Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams, who played under 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan between 2010 and 2013.
Williams, a perennial Pro Bowler himself, is going to be inserted directly into Staley’s spot.
Shortly after the trade was announced in the middle of the NFL Draft, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Joe Staley informed the Niners front office before the draft itself:
Staley wanted to give his sole NFL employer adequate time to find a replacement, which also helps explain why the 49ers were linked to earlier rumors about a would-be trade with Williams.
Despite some of the reports coming out about Staley’s eventual retirement, San Francisco’s front office largely kept the rumors under the table. General manager John Lynch repeatedly said he was anticipating Staley’s return in 2020, which now appears to be an attempt to prevent other teams from anticipating what the Niners were going to do, either in the draft itself or on the trade market.
In Williams, the 49ers are getting a seven-time Pro Bowler who, despite sitting out in hopes for a new contract in 2019, should be able to fill the void left by the six-time Pro Bowler, Staley.
And while Williams will probably want a new deal soon after arriving in San Francisco, Staley’s contractual numbers coming off the books will help make that possible.
Still, it’s tough envisioning the Niners moving forward without their longest-tenured player, and fans will surely lock Staley into the ranks of all-time fan favorites.
Thank you, Joe Staley. Forever faithful.