The longest-tenured 49ers player suddenly has a young – and big-legged – go-getter gunning for his position.
The 49ers made one of the surprise picks Saturday when they selected punter Bradley Pinion in the fifth round. He was the first specialist taken in this year’s draft, a full round ahead of where the 49ers chose Andy Lee in 2004.
Lee is only 32 and he’s been to three Pro Bowls, most recently in 2011. But he’ll count more than $2 million against the salary cap this season, with the price going up each year through 2018.
“Andy’s been in the league for a long time, and he’s a great punter,” Pinion said on a conference call. “There’s a reason he’s been in the league for (11) years. (The 49ers) said it’s an open competition and let the best person win.”
Despite Pinion’s draft status, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said he would have to take the job from the veteran.
“It’s not Bradley’s job; it’s Andy’s job,” Baalke said. “It’s Bradley’s job to come in and win that job.”
Two years ago, the longest-tenured 49ers player was long snapper Brian Jennings. He was beaten out in the 2013 training camp by Kevin McDermott, who was supplanted the following year by Kyle Nelson.
At 6-foot-5, 229 pounds, Pinion is as big as some linebackers, and he also could serve as a kickoff specialist for the 49ers, whose kicker, Phil Dawson, turned 40 in January.
Pinion has the big leg expected from someone his size. But he’s also shown finesse on his punts, pinning 55 inside the 20-yard line while at Clemson.
When asked what made him the best punter in the draft, Pinion said: “I think my ability to control the ball, my ability to put the ball inside the 20. And also, I think my kickoffs really put me apart as well. Not only punt, but I can kick the ball off out the back of the end zone. It’s one of those things, you get two for one.”