For the first time in seven years, it appears the San Francisco 49ers could have a new starting kicker. At the very least, they have a new kicker under contract.
According to multiple reports and an announcement from his agent, Mike McCartney, former Panthers kicker Zane Gonzalez — who was reportedly released on March 23, but never actually released — has been traded to the 49ers. The 49ers have since confirmed the trade.
The cost? Conditional late-round compensation in 2025. Sufficed to say, it’s not a trade price that would keep the 49ers from going elsewhere at the kicking position, and could be an ideal setup for a kicking competition with a rookie in training camp.
Gonzalez has been in the league since 2017, playing for the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers. He’s been a starter for most of those years and has made 91 of his 113 (80.5 percent) career field goal attempts, but missed all of last season with a significant groin injury.
The ex-Panther is slated for a $2.09 million cap hit this season. But $625,000 of that contract is guaranteed, which is likely being taken on by Carolina. San Francisco is likely only responsible for his $1,465,000 base salary, which is not guaranteed. He also has a $350,000 per game (pro-rated per game) roster bonus which would only come into play if he makes the team.
That means the 49ers could draft a rookie (every rookie draft pick starting in the fourth round would cost less than $1 million on the cap), cut Gonzalez, and pay less than a fifth of the $5,509,313 cap hit they had with Robbie Gould last season.
Gould, now 40, had his contract expire this offseason and told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that he would not return to the 49ers. San Francisco opted not to franchise tag him at a cost of $5,393,000 this season like they’d done in 2019 before negotiating a long-term deal.
He’s made 447 of his 517 (86.5 percent) career field goal attempts and never missed an attempt in the playoffs, hitting all 29 of his field goals and 39 of his extra points in the postseason.
One thing that’s crucial for any kicker joining the 49ers is taking kickoff responsibilities. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky has struggled in that aspect and Gould, not exactly a power kicker, had the fifth-lowest touchback percentage in the league last year at 44.35 percent. Gonzalez had a 64 percent touchback rate in 2021, which would rank tied for 13th last season.
General manager John Lynch said at the NFL Combine that the 49ers would be actively evaluating kickers in this year’s draft. Right now, it’s setting up for a situation where San Francisco looks to the future and has a potential kick-off with a rookie and Gonzalez in training camp.