Joe Staley could have stayed in sunny San Diego, continue his normal offseason workout routine that includes one-on-one yoga sessions and keep tabs on his 49ers teammates from afar.
That’s what many notable NFL players do this time of year, when conditioning programs are voluntary. Tom Brady, Jadeveon Clowney, Jalen Ramsey, Frank Clark and others are staying away from their teams while the first phase of the offseason program begins.
But not Staley, who has plenty of reasons to remain away from the club and enjoy his wife and two young daughters. The six-time Pro Bowl tackle is the longest-tenured player on the team, perhaps the most respected voice in the locker room and the 49ers’ only starter remaining from Super Bowl XLVII. He could have stayed home and no one in Santa Clara would have batted an eye.
“I just love being around everybody,” Staley said this week. “I don’t know – I’d much rather be here than somewhere else. For me, too, I need the structure. I’m used to the structure. .... Not to say that I can’t manage my time away from here when I’m not, because I do when I’m down in San Diego. I just enjoy being around the guys. It was never a thought for me to be anywhere else.”
Staley, 34, could have stayed away because he might be looking to extend his contract (like Clark and Clowney, who are looking for long-term deals after being given the franchise tag).
Staley is entering the final year of his six-year deal he signed in 2014, though he’s undecided if he wants to continue playing beyond 2019 and into his late 30s. He hasn’t had any discussions with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan or general manager John Lynch about his future beyond the coming season. He’s slated to earn nearly $11 million this season, ranking 16th among left tackles, according to Overthecap.com.
“But I’ve made it very clear to everybody that I want to play as long as I can,” Staley said. “I still love the game, still feel like I can play at a high level. Still feel like I’m valued on the football team. I know it’s my last year under contract, but I’m not worried about that. I’m just going to go out there and try and do everything I can to help us win games with this team.”
One of the daunting tasks awaiting San Francisco is finding Staley’s eventual replacement. It could be last year’s first-round draft pick, Mike McGlinchey, who started all 16 games at right tackle.
Staley and McGlinchey have become fast friends, of course, and Staley had no problem ribbing his “little brother” for not spending more time working out with him in San Diego this offseason. McGlinchey during his visit with Staley instead opted to work out at EXOS in Carlsbad, where he’s spent time with his Notre Dame teammate and 2018 All-Pro Quenton Nelson, as well as Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan.
“So I don’t know if there’s something in the relationship that needs mending. Maybe (McGlinchey) just moved on,” Staley cracked. “He’s more of a guy that kind of likes to live the spotlight life. Who I train with down there, I’ve been training with for like four or five years and it’s just me and him. It’s not the glitz and glam of EXOS.”
Staley’s session with reporters Wednesday was part education and part stand-up comedy routine. Staley confirmed the front office sought his opinion of pass rusher Dee Ford before San Francisco acquired him in a trade with the Chiefs for a 2020 second-round draft pick. Ford got the best of Staley for a sack during the lopsided first half in Kansas City last September, using his quick first step that Lynch said is the fastest in the NFL.
“That’s a correct statement,” Staley said. “I think just the athleticism, the speed, he’s got a really unique ability to really time up the cadence. ... I was 100 percent certain that he was offsides (on the sack), it was that fast. Going back on the film, he just timed it up super (well). He was right on it.”
When Staley was asked if the front office looked for his opinion on other pass rushers, the sarcastic comedy routine began.
“So I gave a detailed scouting report of about 20 different pass rushers and inside three techniques this year,” he deadpanned. “Strengths, weaknesses, broke down their film, best games, worst games, I went out to where they were this offseason and worked out with them. Put them through the ringer and just trying to break them down, who’s really about football, who’s not. It was an exhausting offseason for me. I think, we were really able to land Dee Ford out of the whole process.”
None of that was true, of course. And surely teammates needing a laugh during the arduous conditioning program will be glad Staley decided to show up when he didn’t have to.