There’s a lot at stake for the San Francisco 49ers.
The jury is largely out on coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch entering the third year of their tenures with a 10-22 record. Franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has shown potential but still hasn’t started more than five games in a season and is working back from a career-altering knee injury.
With so many key questions unanswered, the last thing San Francisco wanted was to have its successes (or failures) in a pivotal campaign come down to a kicker.
Which is why it was important for the team to sign Robbie Gould, 36, to a four-year contract the team announced this week. It followed a rocky offseason in which Gould requested a trade, making it clear he wanted to play closer to his family in Chicago despite being given the franchise tag by the 49ers.
Before the news broke Monday, ahead of the 1 p.m. deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals, San Francisco was prepared for Gould to miss training camp and not report until days before the season opener.
“Over the years, Robbie has established himself as one of the best at his position in the NFL, which is precisely why we were so committed to working out a new contract with him,” Lynch wrote in a statement.
The deal pays Gould $10.5 million over the next two seasons and includes a clause that could make it a four-year pact worth up to $19 million with $15 million in guarantees, according to ESPN. The contract makes Gould the league’s second-highest-paid kicker behind Baltimore’s Justin Tucker. And it comes after the team gave stalwart left tackle Joe Staley a two-year contract extension last month.
So how valuable is Gould to the 49ers?
The team last season had nine games that were decided by eight points or fewer. And Gould is coming off arguably the two most productive seasons of his 14-year career, making 72 of 75 field-goal attempts (96 percent), the second-best rate in NFL history. It trails his 96.1 percent mark from 2016 with the New York Giants and his first season with the 49ers in 2017. He led the NFL with 39 makes that year and paced the league in percentage last fall by hitting 33 of 34 attempts.
To put it simply, Gould has been one of the two most reliable kickers in the league since coming to San Francisco — which should put Shanahan and Lynch at ease knowing they can trust his right leg while the team pushes for its first postseason berth since 2013.
“We are very happy to start off the year on the right foot with this agreement in place so that Robbie can get back with his teammates and focus on making the most out of the upcoming season,” Lynch wrote.
The move was one of the front office’s final pieces of contractual housekeeping before training camp begins July 26. The other pressing needs on the docket: agreeing to contracts with the team’s top two draft picks, defensive end Nick Bosa and receiver Deebo Samuel.
If neither is signed, they could miss valuable practice reps early in training camp, which could be significant given both could see considerable playing time. Samuel was drafted early in the second round after the team decided to part with veteran starter Pierre Garçon. Bosa became arguably the team’s most talented player after he was taken with the second overall pick to boost a lackluster pass rush opposite veteran Dee Ford, who was acquired in a trade in March.
The sticking point with rookie contracts is not salary. Those are predetermined by draft slot thanks to the collective bargaining agreement installed in 2011.
What can be negotiated are bonus structures and offset language, which allows teams to avoid having to pay players if they’re released before their four-year rookie contracts expire.
A detailed explanation of where things stand with Bosa and Samuel’s contract talks can be found here.