Left tackle Joe Staley will return to the 49ers for a 13th season in 2019, he confirmed to The Bee on Friday.
“After that, it’ll be my decision,” Staley said.
Staley, who turns 35 in August, would need a new contract if he were to play a 14th season in 2020. He signed a restructured deal last April increasing his combined salaries for 2018 and 2019 from $11 million to $17.4 million.
The 49ers’ longest-tenured player has been named to six of the last seven Pro Bowls and is still regarded as one of the best all-round tackles in the NFL.
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“I thought Staley had a good year last year, and I think he’s improved a lot this year,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Friday.
Staley sticking around could have significant ramifications on the 49ers this offseason. His eventual retirement will create a sizable void on the offensive line and force the front office to make another significant investment at tackle after using the No. 9 overall pick in the 2018 draft on Mike McGlinchey, who has been strong playing opposite Staley.
McGlinchey has said he’s unsure if he would switch to the left side once Staley hangs up his cleats. It would likely take McGlinchey a full offseason to readjust to where he played his last two seasons at Notre Dame.
For now, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch can focus on fortifying the defense and adding depth throughout the roster with Staley’s expected return.
Shanahan said Staley has been instrumental in McGlinchey’s quick development. The two have become fast friends despite a 10-year age difference. Staley was a first-round draft pick in 2007.
“They hang together, bounce a lot of things off each other,” Shanahan said. “I think it’s neat for the other reasons, too. ... I think they compete with each other. They are friends, but they also give each other - I’m lost for words, I can’t swear - they mess with each other a lot. It’s been a good back and forth. I think they both bring the best out of each other.”
Staley was named a team captain before the season, and his approach to the game has rubbed off on several younger players, including McGlinchey and George Kittle, who has quickly emerged as a premier tight end and was also named a team captain.
“He still shows up super excited to play every single day, and it showed me the mindset you have to have in the NFL,” Kittle said of Staley. “He loves showing up to work. He loves playing football. You can see that.”
That was evident during Sunday’s win over the Denver Broncos when Staley caught a deflected pass from quarterback Nick Mullens and took a 5-yard loss. It was Staley’s third career reception, and it came against the wishes of Shanahan, who would have preferred Staley bat the pass down for an incompletion.
“He got the whole stadium going,” Kittle said. “You got a guy like that, if you can try and play at that level, it makes you play a lot better, just trying to match his enthusiasm for the game.”
Staley couldn’t help himself when he saw the ball in the air.
“It was a dumb decision. I shouldn’t have caught it,” he said. “It’s like telling me that, ‘Hey, there’s pizza here. Don’t have a slice.’ I’m going to have a slice even though I know it’s not good for me. I shouldn’t be eating pizza. But I’m going to do it. ...The crowd got me hyped up.”
There’s precedent for tackles playing at 35 and older. Jason Peters of the Eagles is 36. Andrew Whitworth of the Rams is 37. Raiders tackle Donald Penn, 35, played four games this season before landing on injured reserve with a leg injury.
But none of those tackles have caught a pass this season.