Before the 2018 regular season begins, 49ers left tackle Joe Staley will turn 34.
He’s played 11 seasons in the NFL for a total of 158 games. That’s a lot of banging and pounding on — and being pounded by — enormous defensive linemen.
Yet Staley plans to play at least two more seasons with the 49ers, and the team is eager to have him, having restructured his deal this offseason through the 2019 season in a move that reportedly will pay him more than $8 million in both 2018 and 2019. The Niners see him as a key factor in the success of the offense as the blind-side protector of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, a mobile and athletic blocker in the run game and a leader on the offensive line. Last season, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan saw Staley play at a very high level, especially late in the season, and earn a trip to the Pro Bowl.
It’s quite a testament to Staley, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, that he remains in the top-echelon of NFL offensive tackles after all these years.
Part of the reason, Staley says, is his decision early in his career to focus on being fit and quick rather than bulky. Staley told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee this week that in his first seasons, he put on more weight – getting as heavy as 330 pounds – because he believed he needed to in order to battle with defensive linemen. That was a mistake, he says now.
"I couldn’t move," he told Barrows. "I felt sluggish all the time. I kind of made a change that offseason and was like,'I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to sacrifice what made me an NFL player to try to be some kind of size that everybody thinks I have to be."
Staley told Barrows he played last season at about 295 pounds, lighter than most offensive tackles in the league, but it allows him to stay quick and agile and play well in Shanahan’s scheme that asks linemen to pull and block on the outside.
Staley, who is excited for the team’s prospects in 2018, said he was thinking about retirement last year until things turned around with Garoppolo and a season-ending five-game winning streak.
Staley also credited Shanahan for getting together with him one-on-one for a talk that lifted his enthusiasm level and has him believing in the team’s future.
"He kind of really got my mind back on track," Staley said. "We had a good conversation. We talked for probably an hour, got me refocused and all that. It was beneficial for me and that speaks to the kind of person he is, to be able to sit down with a guy that’s older and dealing with stuff as a first-time head coach and be able to really sit down and get me refocused. It was a big help to me."