© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
No, Joe Staley is not thinking about retirement. He’s abundantly aware this season has not gone as planned for him. But he’s finally healthy again, as he showed on Sunday night in Seattle, when Jimmy Garoppolo was sacked just twice, and neither were the fault of Staley, who lined up frequently against Jadeveon Clowney, who got the better of both him and tackle counterpart Mike McGlinchey in Week 10.
“I’m a lot healthier now than I was that game,” Staley said Thursday.
Despite the return to health and ability, the questions have come. At age 35, after he fractured his fibula, had a torn ligament in a finger and back issues throughout this season, has Staley given thought to retirement?
“No. I don’t know why everybody’s been asking me that question,” Staley said Thursday. “Because I got injured everybody’s like, ‘Oh you’re gonna be retiring now?’… No, I just signed a contract here. I still love playing football. It’s like the ninth time someone’s asked me that, I’m starting to wonder why.”
It’s the wrong time to ask Staley that question, coming off arguably his best game of the season, at the peak of his health with an extra week to recover, and with home field advantage until the Super Bowl, should San Francisco get there.
Having signed a two-year, $28 million extension, there’s no reason to believe Staley would consider retiring. Sure, he was rusty against the Seahawks in their first matchup. He admitted he could have maybe, possibly, theoretically, come back a bit too quick to play in that game and it showed. But he looked like his usual self on Sunday, as McGlinchey attested to.
“He was unbelievable. He looked like Joe Staley, again, these last few weeks,” McGlinchey said. “He’s kind of been building building building and got a really good test again. And when somebody gets you like Clowney got the two of us on that Monday night game, it does things to your head a little bit, and it was huge for him to get over that hump, not only just for the success of our team but the way that he played and the dominance that he showed on Sunday night was really, really cool and it’s the reason why he’s the best and why he’s been the best for as long as he’s been playing.
And how cool is it that I get to sit and watch him go through what he’s gone through this year with how tough this year has been physically for him coming back with his leg and his back and his hand and all this kind of stuff, to then come back in a Week 17 matchup and show out the way that he did when our team needed him to the most. And it’s not easy, especially pass protection up there when you can’t hear anything and they have a jump on you. He did it in the hardest of circumstances and showed why he is Joe Staley.”
McGlinchey said that part of the problem for offensive linemen in coming back into the fold is that practice reps don’t provide the necessary feel to get ready. Technique and getting back to pre-snap keys are the biggest challenge.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” McGlinchey said. “You can’t do it until you get live bullets.”
After looking like the old (young?) Staley and beating the Seahawks for the first time for 2011, Staley found himself in tears.
“I was just happy man. I don’t know, there’s no reason behind it, just kind of happened,” Staley said. “Kind of surprised me, I was laughing with some guys, like, ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this right now,’ but maybe I’ll look back on why, but it’s probably just being up there, you know, losing, having a game where it mattered and coming with a victory and just sobbing.”
Starting right guard Mike Person, who has been sidelined the past two games with a neck and shoulder injury, and was with the 49ers back as a rookie in that 2011 season, has a unique appreciation for Staley’s journey to this point.
“Joe, as you guys know he’s, he’s kind of been through it all, and he’s had some good years here and he’s had some not not great years,” Person said. “So I think everything that we’ve gone through in the past three years here, I think that it’s great to finally see some success for him on a team level, because these last few years for him, they were tough, and for him to commit to this team and all that, I mean, it’s awesome.”
While he’s not thinking about what’s on the other side of his NFL career, the questions about retirement do give Staley something to chew on.
“Yeah, [it does piss me off] a little bit,” Staley said. “I appreciate it. It’s good motivation.”