San Francisco 49ers

Will 49ers use franchise tag for first time in seven years? Here’s who could get it

San Francisco 49ers’ Robbie Gould kicks the game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter during a game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sunday December 17, 2017.
San Francisco 49ers’ Robbie Gould kicks the game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter during a game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sunday December 17, 2017. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

A strong argument can be made that Robbie Gould has been one of the best 49ers over the past two seasons, particularly when comparing his résumé to other NFL kickers.

Gould, a pending free agent, ranked first in the league by making 97.1 percent of his field goals in 2018, a year after leading the league with 39 made kicks. And if San Francisco wants to vault into playoff contention in 2019, having a reliable kicker could be the difference between playing in January for the first time since the 2013 season or watching from the couch.

All that is why Tuesday is a notable day regarding Gould’s future and for the 49ers.

Tuesday marks the opening of the two-week window for teams to give pending free agents the franchise tag, which prevents those players from hitting the open market in return for a high, fully-guaranteed salary for the following season. It’s often the last resort for teams when they can’t agree to multiyear contracts with players they want to keep on board. The 49ers are not expected to allow Gould to sign elsewhere.

Gould is easily the 49ers’ most logical choice for the tag for a team that hasn’t used it since 2012, when safety Dashon Goldson was franchised. The tag for kickers is expected to be roughly $5 million, which would be a lofty raise for Gould after he signed two-year, $4 million contract with San Francisco in 2017. But that salary would be a relative drop in the bucket for coach Kyle Shanahan’s team that’s expected to have north of $65 million in cap space when the new league year begins March 13.

“Of course we want Robbie back. He’s been great for two years,” Shanahan said after Gould hit a game-winning field goal in overtime to beat the Seattle Seahawks in December. “It’s nice for a coach that ... I’m not thinking about him missing it at all.”

Gould, who turned 36 in December, was the team’s finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, generally regarded as the league’s most prestigious honor each season for players who show excellence between the lines and with their communities. Gould has been one of the 49ers’ most active players with charity work since joining the team. He also owns two of the franchise’s longest streaks of made kicks (33 from October 2017 to September 2018 and currently 23 since October 2018).

San Francisco’s other pending unrestricted free agents are defensive back Antone Exum Jr., running back Alfred Morris, long snapper Kyle Nelson, linebacker Mark Nzeocha, right guard Mike Person, punter Bradley Pinion and defensive back Jimmie Ward.

Chris Biderman has covered the 49ers since 2013 and began covering the team for The Sacramento Bee in August 2018. He previously spent time with the Associated Press and USA TODAY Sports Media Group. A Santa Rosa native, he graduated with a degree in journalism from The Ohio State University.
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