The 49ers do not have a starting kicker locked in. With the NFL Draft approaching and San Francisco rostering former Panthers outcast Zane Gonzalez, signs are pointing towards the selection of a kicker.
Having a kicking competition makes plenty of financial sense.
Where things stand
Gonzalez has just a $1.465 million base salary which is not guaranteed, plus a $350,000 per game (pro-rated per game) roster bonus if he makes the team.
A rookie kicker would cost less than that. Even if the 49ers took one with their first pick at 99 overall, they’d have a cap hit of just $980,991 next season.
Robbie Gould cost $5.393 million last season. For a team that just added Javon Hargrave, that’s a potentially difficult figure to accommodate.
The financial picture, and the benefit of finding a long-term solution at kicker make total sense.
The most pressing question, though, is whether the 49ers — at least an NFC Championship contender — would want to trust those postseason kicks to a rookie, or Gonzalez.
Gould has never missed a kick in the postseason in his 18-year career on 29 field goals and 39 extra points. He’s made 86.5 percent of his career field goal attempts compared to 80.5 percent for Gonzalez.
The 40-year-old said he would not return to the 49ers, but that doesn’t mean all that much. If the 49ers pay him what he wants, he could well return. And that disagreement might only be over a million or so dollars, which would seem a close enough gap to bridge.
Or maybe the 49ers look at another veteran kicker, like Mason Crosby or Ryan Succop, as a cheaper alternative to Gould.
But let’s say they decide to get younger at kicker and don’t think Gould is worth a $4 million-plus price tag — and they aren’t interested in the other free agent options.
Who’s an option in this year’s draft?
Jake Moody, Michigan
Two names stand out, and for the 49ers’ purposes, really one: Michigan’s Jake Moody.
While there are a number of kicking prospects with decent production at the college level at major programs — including some stellar seasons — none have been as reliable or clutch as Moody.
Moody hit a 59-yard field goal in the national championship game, the longest ever in a CFP championship. He never missed a single extra point in his college career. Non one in 148 attempts over five years.
Now, he did miss four of his seven 50-plus-yard attempts and one from the 40-to-49-yard range last season. But he’s been extremely reliable over his career, especially in big moments.
And he’s got a leg. He had a 64 percent touchback rate at Michigan, same as Gonzalez (though that’s at the NFL level). He’s the clear best kicker in the draft.
Drafting someone with the ability to handle kickoffs is massive.
Gould had to take on kickoff duties at age 39-40 given Mitch Wishnowsky’s failures in that respect. He was solid for his age, but poor compared to the rest of the league. San Francisco had a 44.35 percent touchback percent, fifth-worst in the league.
Someone like Moody, or Gonzalez — who had a 64 percent touchback rate before missing the entire 2022 season — would project far better in that respect.
But if you’re the 49ers, you’re drafting someone with the steel to perform in big moments. Kickers who don’t have the stomach for that won’t cut it. Moody seems like he does.
Chad Ryland, Maryland
Option No. 2 would likely be Maryland’s Chad Ryland. He, too, has a leg.
If you’re a sicko like the writer of this story, you may be interested in the following video which shows Ryland knocking one in from 66 yards in an NFL combine prep video. As we like to say in these parts, he is absolutely launching.
Now, he’s got far less production than Moody and more inconsistencies. His motion, well, has a lot of motion. It looks like it could be tightened up, but that’s perhaps how Ryland feels like he gets his explosion.
Either way, the ball rockets off his foot.
But if you’re the 49ers, do you really want to trust playoff kicks to someone who peaked making 86.4 percent of his kicks in college?
To his credit, Ryland’s only missed kicks his senior year were three from 50-plus and one from 46 yards, but he didn’t get the same opportunity to prove himself in big games like Moody.
He’s the type of guy who projects to definitely compete with Gonzalez for the job, but he’s not going to leave you with the same sense of confidence that Moody might provide.
Christopher Dunn, NC State
The rest of the options come with some sort of caveat. There’s some combinations of inconsistencies or a lack of leg strength.
One of the more intriguing options, and someone the 49ers reportedly brought in for a workout, is NC State’s Christopher Dunn.
Dunn was the best kicker in the country last season, going 28-of-29 on field goals, a whopping 96.6 percent conversion rate. He, like Moody, never missed an extra point in college over five years, hitting all 200 attempts.
His only miss last season was a missed 43-yard field goal against North Carolina, in a game NC State won in overtime.
Dunn’s longest kick was from 53 yards, pretty much the extent of Gould’s range. His longest field goal for the 49ers was from 54 yards in 2019 in the NFC Championship against the Packers.
So as far as range goes, Dunn is about the same. But he doesn’t have a major leg and is just 5-foot-7-inches tall. He didn’t handle kickoff duties this past season, and that would be a major question mark.
If it’s between an unproven, small-framed rookie who maxes out at Gould’s range and Gould himself, why not just re-sign the real thing?
That’s the proposition the 49ers are facing. Moody is the top choice in this draft, but they might have to get a pick in the fourth round if they want him, based on the history of top kickers going in round four — especially with other teams, like the Packers, desperate for a kicker.
San Francisco doesn’t have a selection in that round, though, and drafting a kicker at the end of the third round seems like it could be a dodgy strategy, especially if they don’t win the job.
As it stands, the door is open Gould to return, to add another veteran, or for the 49ers to have a training camp competition with a rookie.