News & Analysis

49ers veteran Joe Staley retires after 13 seasons in the NFL

Longtime San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley was expected to return for the 2020 NFL season, but Adam Schefter reports that health concerns caused him to seek retirement instead, setting in motion the events that led to the acquisition of Trent Williams so to maintain the quality at the position.

Staley walks away from the game as one of the best tackles of his generation and one of the most underrated players in the league. Over the last decade, the best two tackles in the NFL in terms of PFF grade were Joe Thomas (93.8) and Jason Peters (93.6), but Staley was the third name on that list at 93.3.

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Highest PFF run-blocking grades among offensive tackles from 2010-19 (min. 1,000 snaps, regular season only)
Rank Name Team Run-blocking snaps PFF run-blocking grade
1 Joe Staley 49ers 3,628 93.1
2 Lane Johnson Eagles 2,501 93.0
3 Jason Peters Eagles 2,964 92.3
4 Tyron Smith Cowboys 3,372 91.6
5 Trent Williams Redskins 2,952 90.0
6 Ryan Ramczyk Saints 1,294 90.0

Staley was a vital member of the 2012 49ers team — a team that featured the league’s best offensive line at that time. While some other players have been better pass-blockers over the past decade, nobody has been a more impactful run-blocker. In fact, Staley has the best PFF run-blocking grade of any tackle over the last 10 years.

The run game may be less important today than it has been in the past, but Staley’s run blocking was a vital component to two different teams that bucked that trend, leaned on the run game and went to the Super Bowl, even if each one came up a play or two short in losing efforts.

Today’s 49ers are no different, and it’s why his departure from the team was such a significant blow that they needed to make moves to mitigate it. 

Staley’s career will go down as one of the best from any linemen of the PFF era. We began grading in 2006, so Staley is another player for whom we now have a complete data set. He finishes up without ever having a below-average season in terms of PFF grade. The worst grade of his career was a 68.6 — back in an injury-shortened 2010 season — and in the nine seasons following that, he didn’t grade lower than 77.9, with eight of the nine seasons finishing north of 80.0.

You can make a good argument that Staley’s career is one that belongs in Canton when he becomes eligible. Few tackles have experienced higher peaks than Staley over his career or can boast such a consistently high level of play.

Though he walks away from the game without a Super Bowl to his name, he did his part to put the team in position to win two of them. Across 70 pass-blocking snaps in his two Super Bowls, Staley didn’t surrender a single pressure, despite going up against some top-quality pass-rushers such as Terrell Suggs and Frank Clark.

Ultimately, Staley will be remembered as one of the greatest players to ever suit up for the 49ers and one of the best players of the PFF era. The 49ers will miss him significantly on the offensive line, but they will hope the addition of Trent Williams will at least limit the damage that his departure would otherwise cause.

We wish him well in retirement.

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